Chuma Okeke was shooting jumpers before Orlando Magic’s hiatus

It has been more than a year since Chuma Okeke tore his ACL. His wait to debut for the Orlando Magic was delayed further. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
It has been more than a year since Chuma Okeke tore his ACL. His wait to debut for the Orlando Magic was delayed further. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Chuma Okeke said he was shooting jumpers before the season went on hiatus. Now he and the Orlando Magic will have to wait even longer for him to return.

The focus for the Orlando Magic during this hiatus has been at least partly on what the team will look like moving forward. Hardly satisfied with finishing seventh once again or staying stagnant, fans are eager to see the team move forward.

This time where there is not much going on has been filled with dreams of how to get better. they have looked for trades to free up playing time for key young players and the promise of what players like Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac can do.

It feels like sometimes the last thing on anyone’s mind is the upcoming Playoffs — which seem set to happen still as the league gets closer to reopening — and what that could mean. Indeed, it is hard to believe the playoffs will change anything in the Magic’s plans.

With Orlando’s cap sheet still fairly booked and the likelihood that Evan Fournier opts into the final year of his contract with all the uncertainty over the NBA’s finances, the team will not have a ton of options to get new players. They will still have the mid-level exception worth about $9 million and their draft pick.

And one other ace in the hole — 2019 Draft pick Chuma Okeke.

The Magic took Chuma Okeke with the 16th overall pick in the draft, but they opted to hold him out a year, assigning him to the Lakeland Magic to rehab a torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA Tournament. The decision — likely overdrafting Okeke with his injury — gave the Magic some breathing room to stay under the tax.

But the plan was always to bring Okeke in for the 2021 season. And that is about where things went quiet.

He provided a brief update to Josh Robbins of The Athletic (subscription required). By all accounts, he diligently went about his work and tried to stay engaged with his teammates. It is still unclear if he would have been able to play at any point this season.

The Magic were rightly pretty patient and silent.

Okeke gives an update on his recovery

The hiatus has put a halt to a lot of plans for rehab and development that would normally happen — including the experience of being in the Playoffs and all the preparation that comes with that. Chuma Okeke’s development was certainly going to be a focus at this point.

His one-year anniversary of his original injury passed during the hiatus. The chance of him playing disappeared with it. And with the Lakeland Magic closing up for the year, there was no longer any word of his progress or recovery.

Much less, access to a gym.

But Okeke’s recovery continues even in quarantine. And he had already made some significant progress. That is at least something to hold onto.

He told Greg Ostendorf of last week he had started to shoot at something close to full speed before the season went on hiatus.

"“Before the lockdown, I was shooting in the gym and I felt pretty good shooting, getting off the floor,” Okeke said. “I was going through drills somewhat full speed. It felt good. I don’t know what percent I’m at right now because it’s been a while since I’ve even shot a ball. I’ve just been working out and conditioning.”"

That is not all the details Magic fans want to hear about this promising draft pick. But it is a lot more than we have heard in some time from him.

Okeke tore his ACL during the Sweet 16 of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. He scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in that game and it seemed like it was a star turn for him. He averaged 12.0 points per game his sophomore year. But all the metrics and measurables hinted that he could be a bigger player when he reached the NBA.

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If he had not torn his ACL, he likely would have been a Lottery pick. The Magic rightfully have high hopes for him. But the delay and hiatus — plus the delay in the season — is only going to further push his return to the court.

A long wait for Okeke

Chuma Okeke will not likely be able to sign his rookie contract until September or October, depending on when the season ends,

By the time Okeke hits the floor in an Orlando Magic uniform in what looks like December, it will be nearly two years since he played competitive basketball. That is a scary prospect for any player. Nobody really knows what shape Okeke will be in when he finally steps onto the court.

With that in mind, maybe the Magic’s plans for the 2021 season at least will not include relying heavily on Okeke. With Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu currently on the roster, the Magic certainly can afford to bring Chuma Okeke along slowly next season.

If anyone is eager to see Okeke play, it is probably Okeke himself. But everyone has to wait with the world the way it is now. Nobody could have foreseen any of this when he decided to defer the year.

And so his waiting continues.

Okeke is not alone in that wait though. He said the Magic provided him with some training equipment — similar to what they did to all of their players — and a workout plan. Okeke is keeping busy.

Next. Markelle Fultz is a jump shot away. dark

The wait might be a bit longer but Okeke will get his chance to step back on the court.