Onyeka Okongwu recalls his NBA draft path, growing up with LaMelo Ball

The USC center spoke with Yahoo Sports NBA draft analyst Krysten Peek about his one season with the Trojans, growing up with the Ball family and how he's teaming with Mountain Drew for the Virtual Green Carpet on draft night.

Video Transcript

KRYSTEN PEEK: I'm Krysten Peek, NBA Draft Analyst for Yahoo Sports, joined by Onyeka Okongwu, thanks to Mountain Dew is part of the NBA Draft Virtual Green Carpet. O, how are you feeling heading into Draft Week? It's finally here.

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ONYEKA OKONGWU: You know, Krysten, I'm just feeling great and I'm excited for the future and everything that's about to happen in the upcoming weeks.

KRYSTEN PEEK: You are one of the best shot blockers in this draft class, and are phenomenal at guarding in the pick and roll. What else have you added to your game in this extended time off?

ONYEKA OKONGWU: It's been a long seven, eight months so I've been working on all aspects of my game. I feel comfortable with shooting the ball. Feel comfortable handling the ball. I just feel like I'm a better overall basketball player than I was at USC.

KRYSTEN PEEK: I talked to Andy Enfield this past week, and he said he knew after the trip to Europe during the preseason that you were going to be something special and help them win a lot of games. I want to know, was there a game last season that stands out to you, when you knew that you had elevated your game?


ONYEKA OKONGWU: Oh, man. A couple games. There was-- I had 33 points against Pepperdine. I had an efficient 28 points against Harvard. Then the Pac-12 against schools like Oregon, at Arizona, at Colorado. Those are the games that really, like, made me believe that, oh, yeah. I'm about to-- I'm out of here.

KRYSTEN PEEK: Not your first game when you had eight blocks?

ONYEKA OKONGWU: No. I mean, that game too, but I was like, just one game. Just one game. I feel the movement.

KRYSTEN PEEK: You being one of the best shot blockers in this draft class, is there a player that you would love to meet at that rim for that, you know, SportsCenter Top 10 highlight of you blocking their shot?


ONYEKA OKONGWU: A couple players. Obviously LeBron and Yada. Now they're my all-time greats. I love the way they play. They're so vicious going to the rim. And, obviously, Lonzo and LaMelo too. You know, I always talk trash with them, saying I'm gonna see you on that rim, see you on that switch. So, just those type of players.

KRYSTEN PEEK: I love it. I love that you want all the smoke. I love it, O. OK now growing up, I know you were eight or nine years old when you first met LaMelo Ball and his brothers. What do you remember about those early days playing together at the community center in Chino Hills?

ONYEKA OKONGWU: Man, you know, I remember I always used to see them at the rec center. It would be me and my brother, and those three. And their dad would be over there too. We would be playing at the [INAUDIBLE]. So it was just good getting in those runs with them.

And I remember my brother was, like, in junior high, and they were playing the big ballers. They would play the big ballers a couple times. And I would just be at them games, and I'd just see a little LaMelo, his little light green arm sleeve, playing with his older brothers. You know, I just always seen them play. It was just cool growing up with them.


So when my brother went into high school with Lonzo, I was about in fifth grade, that's when me and Melo really got close there, watching our brothers play together. So I've known them for a while, and they're great people.

KRYSTEN PEEK: Yeah, I know. I remember seeing you for the first time when you were a freshman at Chino Hills High School playing alongside Lonzo and LaMelo and Gelo. Looking back at that time, what advice would you give your younger self at age 14 or 15?

ONYEKA OKONGWU: Man, I'd say, young fella, just be confident. Just be confident. Just don't be down after one game. Just keep your head up and be confident. Keep working. Better days ahead. Don't hold your head down on anything temporary.

KRYSTEN PEEK: Now I know this has been a really long process for you guys. I remember seeing you a couple months ago, and you wanted to play so badly with your old teammates. How excited are you to get back on the court again?


ONYEKA OKONGWU: I'm so excited. I haven't-- it's been so long since I played a game. March. Is March right? Yeah, March. Now it's November. It's about eight months I haven't played a game. Now I'm just hungry, anxious to play again. So I'm excited for it.

KRYSTEN PEEK: All right, tell me how you're teaming up with Mountain Dew on Draft Night. Do you have your suit all picked out? A special pair of shoes that you plan on wearing?

ONYEKA OKONGWU: Man, I'm just excited to get that green carpet. A lot of players will go on it on draft day. But it's going to be virtual, so I'm excited to, you know, show off my tuxedo, nice little loafers shoes, and be able to represent my style for Mountain Dew.

KRYSTEN PEEK: And what are your plans for Draft Night? And how is it going to feel to finally hear your name called after all this time?


ONYEKA OKONGWU: I'll probably be emotional. Probably won't have anything to say. It's to be a great moment just getting my name called. You know, fulfilling my lifelong dream to be an NBA player. I'm excited for it all. Just can't wait for Wednesday. I'm excited for it.

KRYSTEN PEEK: Well, thank you so much, O. Appreciate the time. Best of luck to you in your first year in the league. And for continual coverage on the NBA Draft, keep it right here on Yahoo Sports.