Akachi Okugo, the Kings’ player development coach

Former Jesuit High star-player finds himself on his hometown team’s staff

PHOTO by jasmine lazo

The Sacramento Kings’ next home game is Sunday, December 10, against the Toronto Raptors. Get tickets at nba.com/kings/tickets.

In our first year at Jesuit High School, I got cut from the freshman basketball team while Akachi Okugo made varsity. As a senior in 2012, he started on the Jesuit team that went to the section championship game, where they fell just short. After he graduated, he racked up all-state honors at Yuba College before transferring to Division I Grand Canyon University, then finishing at California State University, San Marcos. Now, through a happy coincidence, Okugo works as a player development coordinator for the Sacramento Kings. It may not be what he imagined for himself as a kid, but it’s not bad for a first job out of college.

What do you appreciate most about devoting yourself to basketball?

Just putting your time and effort into a craft and then watching it unfold into something that you’ve always wanted. So even though I didn’t go to the NBA, and that was always a dream of mine, I still got to see different countries playing basketball, got to play at a high level in Division I, got to meet people I would have never met in my life, so I’m grateful for that.

When did you know you wouldn’t be playing professionally?

I didn’t even plan to go away from playing pro. It just kinda happened when I didn’t have any contract offers. The Kings brought the new coaching staff in and knew my trainer real well. They asked if he knew anybody who wanted to do the player development role and he referred me. And I haven’t looked back since.

Are you happy to have a job in basketball?

It’s a blessing. When a lot of people are done playing, it’s hard to get back into hoops, at least at a high level. So I was blessed to be able to be back at a high level with the best players in the world, like, right out of college. That hardly happens. I’m the youngest person on the coaching staff by many years. I have no complaints. But if you asked me after college if I would be where I am now, this would not be what I’d say.

Is it weird being a coach?

Most definitely. I knew a couple [players] before I started working because we had the same trainer or I played with or against them, so that fact is kinda hard. But at the end of the day, I think I’m at peace now with myself and my career. I can honestly look myself in the mirror and say, “You know what, I gave all I got, and if that’s all God had for me, then hey, so be it.”

How hard is it to play at that level?

What you see on TV doesn’t even do it justice. It looks easy on TV, but those guys put in countless hours of work. Time away from their families, friends, etc. It’s a big sacrifice. It’s a whole different level that the normal viewer can’t even imagine, unless you’re actually in it. The speed of play is so fast at the next level. You’re expected to make open shots. That’s what you get paid to do. But when you got guys who are 6’8” with a 7’4” wingspan running at you, trying to alter your shot, it’s difficult. It’s not easy to be an NBA player. They play 82 games, including playoffs. And their offseason isn’t that long. It’s a constant wear-and-tear on your body.

What are practices like?

On practice days, a lot of the guys come in by 9:30. Practice at 11:30 usually goes about two hours. Then after that, they got to deal with the media for 20 minutes. Then, if you’re putting up extra shots, it’s damn near a 9-to-5, except it’s just straight physical labor.

How many shots are they putting up?

Hundreds. If it’s an off day, it’s thousands. Especially if you’re not in the rotation or playing a lot, those guys get extra work in. The guys are constantly getting their shots up because it’s their job now.

Do guys change what they do if they’re struggling?

They do double the reps. If a guy has a bad game, we’re in the gym after the game or early the next morning, getting confidence shots up. If you’re a good shooter, you want to get as many shots up as possible, but a lot of it is based on how you do in the game, so a lot of it is mental.

You have a brother playing in the MLS, how do you see yourself in relation to that?

I’ve been grateful to have a brother that successful, and where I see myself with it now is, everyone is going to go through their own trials and tribulations to become who they are. So what you’re doing now doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where you’re going to be in the next couple years.

Anything else you’re working on?

I have a documentary that I’m in the process of shooting called So What’s Next? … It’s about what athletes go through in how they transition to the next phase of their life. If they’re done after college or if their pro career ends short, or if they have a long pro career, what do they want to do after? I’m shooting next weekend.