Few years ago, David Okeke seemed to be destined to become one of the cornerstones of the Italbasket of the future. The long year of 1998 was then unfortunately stopped by a heart problem, just when his career was taking off. After an ordeal that lasted over two years, Okeke returned to the field last season in Georgia, where the rules for this type of physical problem are less stringent. In this one he is playing in Iceland, with Keflavik who in his history have won 9 national titles.

David Okeke’s side finished the regular season in fifth place, but were eliminated in the first round of the Playoffs 3-2 by Tindastoll. The blue played 9 games at an average of over 28 ‘, producing 19.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game (best scorer on the roster). We interviewed him, especially about the last four years of his career and the process that led him to return to treading the parquet.

David, let’s start with your words. In the post announcing your return after more than two years of hiatus due to health problems, you wrote “Never give up in life … it will all just be a bad memory”. With these two seasons on the court, first in Georgia and then in Iceland, can we officially say that everything is finally just a bad memory?

Absolutely! We all have difficulties in life and this is what changes us, makes us better, mature, strong and aware that at any moment even the most expensive things can be taken away from you. It made me a new person.

David Okeke

Heart problems came at your prime. You had signed a five-year contract with Turin, the first year with coach Vitucci was more than anything else about settling into a completely new reality, but in the second season with Luca Banchi you had found the right balance, winning important minutes both in the league and in the EuroCup. How do you feel when you think back to that period? Do you have any regrets?

No, absolutely no regrets because, as I said before, life confronts us with obstacles. There are two ways it can go: either you come out destroyed, or better. I came out positively. If I hadn’t had this problem I wouldn’t be the person I am now, I have to thank first of all my girlfriend, friends, family… We all need someone. I have only wonderful memories of that time. I built day by day, working hard and listening.

Shortly before the stop, coach Sacchetti was also called up for the senior national team. Your experience in blue, however, is indelibly marked by that silver at the 2017 Under-19 World Cup in Egypt. What do you remember of that incredible adventure? Many of those guys today are protagonists in Serie A (Pajola, Visconti, Caruso, Mezzanotte…), are you still in contact with any of them?

Even on the national team I have fantastic memories that I still shiver today, really! Being able to compare myself with the best players in the world only added awareness of the level I was at. One of the many dreams that has come true. We never thought we could play the final starting from underdogs, but the fact that we were a united group allowed us to reach this goal. Every now and then I happen to hear Tommaso Oxilia, whom I hug tightly.

At the beginning of 2018, after the EuroCup match against St. Petersburg, the doctors stopped. A heart problem that has kept you out of the game for more than two years and that has inevitably affected your career. How did you manage to face all the difficulties? Was the physical aspect more complicated, with the two interventions and the need to keep in training for a possible return to the field on an undefined date, or the mental one?

It was difficult both mentally and physically. But there was something inside me that said “David, go ahead!”. It’s hard to put into words, but when you really want something, you always get it. I don’t think it can be said that you have influenced my career, because I am still here playing this wonderful sport.

Finally, after more than two years, you have had the green light from the doctors to return to the court. The Italian rules, however, did not allow you to do it in our country and forced you to emigrate elsewhere, towards leagues with less stringent rules. How did you experience this umpteenth obstacle?

In positive. No obstacles, I would say. I hope that things in Italy can change on this topic, because athletes such as Christian Eriksen, a footballer, have shown that despite this heart condition he returned to the field in splendid shape and without any problems.

David Okeke with the shirt of Keflavik, in the Icelandic championship

First Georgia with BC Rustavi, now Iceland with Keflavik. Two championships that are certainly very fascinating but equally little known to the general public. Tell us something special to let us know. How did you find yourself? Was it easy to settle in?

It was easy to get along with the team and the club, I immediately felt comfortable. But it was just as difficult to get used to the climate and the many hours of Icelandic darkness. The Icelandic championship compared to the Georgian one is of a slightly higher level, obviously without detracting from the second. Here in Iceland, in recent years, the aim has been to increase the championship by drawing inspiration from the great European championships.

To conclude the interview as we started it, let’s go back to the words of your post: “Knowing how to surround yourself with people who believe in you and hug them tightly… your family”. How important is it for you to know that you have their support, even if they are thousands of miles away?

Knowing that I have the support of my girlfriend and my family, despite the kilometers, has helped me to stay focused and work hard, believing in it more and more.

Staying on the subject of the family, one last curiosity. Your brother Leonardo, born in 2003, is one of the most interesting prospects of Italian youth basketball. Last season he dominated the Under 19 Excellence and the Piedmontese C Gold leading College Borgomanero to promotion to Serie B. In the summer Tortona set his sights on him, taking him from Borgomanero and turning him on loan to JB Monferrato to gain experience in Serie A2, where he is traveling at 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds on average. How do you see his future? What advice do you feel like giving him and what do you think might be his goals?

My brother Leo has grown a lot in the last period and I am very proud of how he is conducting this early career, his future can only be bright. We often talk to each other on the phone precisely because I am his trusted advisor. The tips that come to me now are: humility, work hard, listen and always believe in yourself.

We thank David Okeke for his availability and we wish him the best for his career, hoping one day to see him again on Italian parquet.

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