Credit: Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Right from the season's start, Elie Okobo has been turning heads all over Europe. The French guard, who returned to Europe to make his EuroLeague debut at the age of 24 after a short NBA stint, is currently the "hottest" name in the Old Continent.

Player of the Game
Elie  Okobo
EFF
37
Elie Okobo
Points 35
Accuracy 13-19
Rebounds 4
Assists 2

Leading LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in most statistical categories - and most notably in scoring, assists and Performance Index Rating- Okobo is proving every night that he's capable of dismantling any defense that will get in his way.

However, apart from racking EuroLeague Round 7 MVP honors thanks to a five-star performance at the home of six-time EuroLeague champs Panathinaikos, the Bordeaux-born athlete can be equally proud of his team's record in the competition. The squad coached by T.J. Parker, Tony's younger brother, are currently 5-2, having seen off the likes of Anadolu Efes and CSKA Moscow.

The timing for the French couldn't get any better. While ASVEL were celebrating their first-ever win on the road against the Greeks, AS Monaco were getting the best of CSKA Moscow.

When Elie Okobo exited his team's locker room at the OAKA arena, the local media were already busy talking to his teammates James Gist, who had a prolific seven-year-long career with Panathinaikos, and Kostas Antetokounmpo, who gave fans one of the most impressive dunks of the season (which also drew Giannis's Twitter reaction), along with 12 points and 6 rebounds.

It was time for BasketNews to get some answers from the man who a few minutes earlier had registered 35 points on 8/12 two-point shots, 5/7 three-pointers and 4/4 free throws, plus 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 5 fouls drawn for a PIR of 37.

So, what's the secret behind ASVEL's great start? Elie Okobo answers:

"We're locked in. We're able to correct the mistakes that we make in every game before the next one comes. We come out there and play aggressively as a team.

Elie Okobo

Elie  Okobo
Elie  Okobo
MIN: 27.43
PTS: 20 (63.21%)
REB: 3.86
As: 3.71
ST: 1.14
BL: 0
TO: 4
GM: 7

Everybody wants to hoop, everyone wants to play unselfishly and be together. So far, we're doing a great job, but we still have a lot of work to do to get even better."

Over the last years, it doesn't come as a surprise, but many Europeans get drafted and make their NBA debut before they even get a taste of EuroLeague basketball. That was the case with Okobo, who was selected with the 31st pick (1st in the second round) in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns after three seasons as a pro with Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq Orthez.

"It feels good in the EuroLeague. I was really excited when I signed with ASVEL. I was like "OK, this is my first time playing in the EuroLeague", which is the second-best level in the world. I was excited to experience that," the 24-year-old guard recalls.

"I was trying my best to rehab from my ankle injury this summer. I wanted to come out there, be aggressive, play as myself and have fun on the court again. It's really cool," he goes on to say.

His affinity for the league came rather naturally: "I love it! It's great level basketball. I used to watch it when I was younger."

Of course, many were taken aback by his performances. Averaging 20 points on 55.2% three-point shooting, 3.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and also 4 turnovers (one of the few flaws in his game, the 2018 LNB All-Star has emerged as one of the early frontrunners for the Alphonso Ford, or even the EuroLeague MVP trophy. As far as he's concerned, his overall presence is by no means a surprise.

"I know how to play basketball. I had some ups and downs and I was injured for the past one and a half years. I know what I'm capable of and I'm working every day on the moves I am making on the court. That's why I get to do what I do," he comments.

Okobo doesn't want to label his game and identify himself as a point or scoring guard. "I'm a guard," he replies. "I can pass the ball, score, move up the ball, create for my teammates, play defense. I can do a lot of things and there's a lot of things I want to work on to get better."

When the Brooklyn Nets assigned him to their G League affiliate team, his European comeback was to take place, rather sooner than later.

"It was timing. I also wanted to have that experience and make the best decision for me. I'm really focused on the team in order for us to win as many EuroLeague and French League games as possible."

At Phoenix, Okobo played a total of 53 games, averaging 5.7 points in 18 minutes and a poor 29.5% from behind the arc. Almost 30 months after the 2018-19 season was over, he can be regarded as a star player at the EuroLeague level.

Credit AP – Scanpix

"All those years were full of ups and downs. I was having my rookie season with Phoenix and then I was between playing and not playing. I got hurt, then came COVID.

I signed with the Nets and I was playing in the G League bubble. It was probably the most difficult time in my career because I was playing through pain and it was not fun.

Basketball is a passion first, and then it's a job. I was not having fun and I decided to have surgery. Coming back to Europe, I wanted to show what I'm capable of," he firmly replies.

Despite the fact that his NBA dream with the Suns lasted for essentially one year, Elie Okobo acknowledges that both Igor Kokoskov and Monty Williams "gave me opportunities. Sometimes I did good, some others less good... I'm working every day. I'm 24 and I want to have a long career on the highest level."

Credit Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Asked about whether he would give the NBA another shot, he takes a while to ponder and reflect on the situation:

"Mmm, I want to go back. But right now we're on our seventh EuroLeague game and we have a lot of things to do. I'm really focused on the team and my body.

I want to play well, build something with the team, and win games. I think that the EuroLeague playoffs are a realistic goal for us."

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Panathinaikos Athens
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
45%
23/51
Field goals
51%
35/69
29
Rebounds
32
14
Assists
12
5
Steals
12
90%
19/21
Free throws
80%
4/5
26%
5/19
3-pointers
48%
10/21

Best players

Ioannis  Papapetrou
16 PTS
6/12 FG
2/2 FT
Elie  Okobo
35 PTS
13/19 FG
4/4 FT
Panathinaikos Athens
Few players
6 REB
Kostas   Antetokounmpo
6 REB
2 DREB
4 OREB
Nemanja  Nedovic
3 As
5 TO
24 MIN
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
Few players
3 As
Jeremy  Evans
19 EFF
80% 2P%
- 3P%
Elie  Okobo
37 EFF
67% 2P%
71% 3P%