Orlando Magic season will turn on Chuma Okeke breaking out of his shell

Chuma Okeke turned in another carer-best performances as the change on the Orlando Magic roster has helped him grow. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Chuma Okeke turned in another carer-best performances as the change on the Orlando Magic roster has helped him grow. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic players love Chuma Okeke.

That was evident throughout his rookie year. Any time anyone asked about Okeke, they smiled and got giddy about him. It was like there was a secret person fans had not seen yet.

The distance of the pandemic had created something of a disconnect between players and the fans. There were no season ticket holder events or meet and greets between players and fans. Nobody got a real sense of the team.

Then the team hit reset and traded off the players fans had come to know and love in the last decade really. Everyone was trying to get to know each other.

What was left was a collection of players fans were looking for any hints to learn about and get to know their personalities.

Nobody had a good sense for who Okeke was. Fans loved the way he played and the way he carried himself. But the quiet forward still felt like he had another level to reach and more he could provide.

Chuma Okeke had a promising rookie year for the Orlando Magic. As the quiet rookie gets more confident, he should continue to blossom.

Entering his second year — albeit, starting on the injured list as he returns from a bruised rib — Okeke should have more comfort and confidence on the court. He should begin to break out of his shell and the Magic should see the benefit.

Okeke’s rookie season showed a ton of promise, but he was still clearly learning and getting his feet under him. This second season will be a success the more comfortable he gets. And the more comfortable he gets, the more his personality, which teammates love, will come out.

It is just really hard not to like the guy.

Okeke is still the quiet guy. That is really clear. And teammates seem to do everything they can to get more out of him.

As Zach Lowe of ESPN.com detailed, Okeke endeared himself to even the most prickly of veteran teammates despite how quiet he is.

Lowe also provided the detail that Okeke has come out of his shell more around teammates and lends his bike to teammates for errands when he rides it to the Amway Center, eliciting the quintessential Okeke quote, “It’s the team’s bike now.”

It creates social media gold and is a window into Okeke’s personality:

The other big story, one Terrence Ross also shared on his podcast, is that Chuma Okeke was embarrassed to have J.Cole listen to his music when Cole got some pickup run with the team. Ross joked in a clip from his podcast that Okeke left at that moment and nobody had seen him since.

As Lowe relates, Okeke was more serious about the whole incident. He wanted a world-renowned artist like J.Cole to give his honest opinion which he did not think he would get with his teammates surrounding him in a gym.

Okeke will never lose this kind of seriousness. That is a part of his personality and probably leads to what some might call reserve. But there is definitely some hidden personality in there that needs to poke through.

There are still big expectations for Okeke on the floor. And his comfort and personality will come out the more confident he gets on the floor.

Okeke averaged 7.8 points per game, shooting 34.8-percent from deep and a 49.2-percent effective field goal percentage. He shot 39.6-percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and slowly expanded his game last year. As the season went on, Okeke began taking more shots off the dribble, developing a deadly one- or two-dribble pull-up to the elbow.

Okeke displayed a ton of potential as a shooter and defender. There were a lot of great moments from him. And players were eager to see Okeke break out last year.

Okeke’s game seems set to grow. Coach Jamahl Mosley reportedly wants to use him on the dribble more and use him as a screener a lot more. He will be more than just a spot-up shooter.

Some of those plans will have to wait. Okeke has been ruled out for Wednesday’s season opener with a bruised hip he suffered just before training camp began. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said Chuma Okeke is participating in practice at this point, the team is just working to rebuild his conditioning before clearing him to play.

Everyone is excited for Okeke to take this important step in his second year. They are excited to see how he grows and how he develops.

Everyone seems to be in his corner. They are eager to see Okeke blossom.

Okeke does not need to be anyone else. If he is a naturally quiet person, that part is not going to change.

Orlando does not need him to mimic someone like Cole Anthony. There is only one Anthony and everyone has a different personality that seems to mesh well together.

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Anthony is loud and in everyone’s face with his positivity and enthusiasm. His postgame press conferences and walk-off interviews became legendary for his boundless energy and enthusiasm for the game and his teammates. No one was a bigger cheerleader than Anthony.

With still-empty stadiums, Anthony was someone who helped create energy for the team.

Okeke was the exact opposite.

In his talks with the media, he was always quiet and a bit subdued. This is not abnormal for young players. They are looking for their way and looking for their spot in the league. The lights of the big league media can always shine pretty bright.

It takes a while for players to come into their own skin.

As Okeke started to shine on the court and find his place and comfort within his role, Okeke’s personality started to emerge.

The late-season meme du jour was a photo of Okeke wearing gaudy sunglasses from the SEC Tournament while he was at Auburn. The Magic’s social media team began putting those sunglasses on other players — Okeke said he does not know where the sunglasses are now, getting a chuckle when asked about it at media day.

One way or another, this young group is going to force some personality out of the forward. That will come just as he gets more comfortable and finds his fit and role with the team.

What has become clear from all the stories is that Okeke is a very different person behind the scenes than what he has shown to fans so far. Okeke will let his play do that talking.

Fans will get to know Okeke more and more now. The world is starting to get back to normal and Okeke has been through the NBA ringer once already.

Very clearly his teammates are fans of Okeke the person as much as the player. Fans are very much a fan of the player and are still getting to know the person.

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For Okeke, the more comfortable he gets and the more he lets his personality show, the better he will be. And once again, Okeke will seemingly be worth the wait.