For many players, draft night is a night of anticipation, celebration, and a new chapter in their careers. It usually involves either a green room invite or a phone call in your living room in front of friends and family there to celebrate the news. But if you’re Alex Oriakhi, draft night wasn’t as exciting as many thought it would have been.
“It was getting tough to watch the draft because you saw a lot of guys before you, and as the round went on, I was getting worried,” Oriakhi said.
The Phoenix Suns would put an end to Oriakhi’s woes by taking the recent Tiger graduate with the 57th overall pick.
“I was sitting at home watching the draft, and my agent called me saying how the Suns were going to take me with the 57th pick,” Oriakhi said. “I just couldn’t believe someone was going to take a chance on me, and that I was getting my chance.”
Oriakhi’s selection made it the second straight year that a Tiger got drafted, as the Detroit Pistons took Kim English in the second round the year before.
Going into the draft, one of the lone connections Oriakhi had with the Suns was a friendship with guard Kendall Marshall that began long before his days at Missouri. As the former Tiger has become more acquainted with the organization, though, he realizes there’s plenty of opportunity in Phoenix.
“They’re a rebuilding franchise,” Oriakhi explained. “New coach, new general manager, a young group of players — you can really say it’s a fresh start.”
Oriakhi joins an already loaded Suns frontcourt, which includes Alex Len, the fifth overall pick in the draft out of Maryland, as well as veterans Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye. While Oriakhi will have to make the most out of his minutes in order to prove his worth to the Suns, to him that’s a matter he’s already started thinking about since being drafted.
“Lately all I’ve been doing is working out and working on getting better so I can show this organization what I can do,” he said.
The Massachusetts native no longer thinks about the nerves he had on draft night and surprisingly looks at it as a good thing and realized it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to him.
“I’m a firm believer that whatever is meant to be will be,” Oriakhi said. “Maybe going 57th is the best situation. I’d rather go 57th and be in a better situation than if I went earlier and maybe wound up with a team that didn’t have the best fit for me.”
The Tigers thrived with Oriakhi under the basket this past season as the 6’9 center had the best season of his career averaging 11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for Frank Haith’s squad in 34 games.
The former McDonalds All-American cites the two different coaches he played for during his career, Jim Calhoun and Haith as doing different things for him as a player and a person and believes they will benefit him on what he hopes to be a long and successful NBA career.
“Coach Calhoun helped thicken my skin, because if you can take his criticism and learn from it then you take criticism well from anybody,” Oriakhi said. “Coach Haith on the other hand is more mellow and helped me realize just how good of a player I am and how good I can be.”