Men’s basketball’s sophomore forward Kezie “KZ” Okpala officially declared his eligibility for the NBA draft on Wednesday night, submitting his name to the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Okpala, whose name has been tossed around in lottery-pick mock drafts all season, has the chance to be the first Stanford player drafted in the lottery since Robin and Brook Lopez in 2008.
“It’s always been my dream to play in the NBA, and today, I am taking my first step toward realizing that dream by officially declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft. I am beyond thankful for the love and support I have received and am excited to pursue this next challenge,” Okpala wrote in a post on his personal Instagram.
It’s important to note that this move does not necessarily mean that Okpala will not be back with the Cardinal next year. Under a new NCAA policy established last year, undergraduates with remaining NCAA eligibility can submit paperwork to the NBA that allows them to be evaluated, attend the NBA Combine, have personal agents and conduct workouts with NBA teams, all while retaining their eligibility. Okpala has until May 29th to decide whether to remain in the draft, or retain his eligibility.
Okpala had an incredible sophomore season with the Cardinal, developing his offensive game with a flexible skillset. Okpala, named First Team All Pac-12, averaged a team-high 16.8 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and one steal per game. He shot 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 67 percent from the free-throw line. While his shooting raises some concerns, his ability to cut through the paint will be an incredibly valuable skill in the NBA.
Most mock-drafts have Okpala being drafted in the late picks of the lottery, but there is a great deal of time before the June 20th NBA Draft, and he could rise or fall in the standings quite a bit from his current position.
Okpala, who was the Cardinal’s best player this past season, would leave a massive hole in a struggling Stanford team who finished 15-16 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-12 and lost to UCLA in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The Cardinal are losing their second-best player as well, in graduating senior center Josh Sharma, leaving the team’s future line-ups with major holes to fill.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.