Florida Gators freshman guard Mike Okauru has the potential to be a star for the program in the years to come.
His opportunities have been limited this season as he’s had to sit behind senior Chris Chiozza, who averages 31.8 minutes per game. He knew he’d have to wait his turn from the moment he signed with the Gators, but for any competitive athlete, that can be a difficult thing to do.
Okauru was actually playing some pretty significant minutes for a freshman to start the season. He had two double figure performances in the first four games, as he put up 13 in the season opener against Gardner-Webb and 15 against Stanford in the PK80 tournament.
Then, as opponents got tougher and conference play began, his impact started to diminish and his frustration started to build.
Up until the last three games, Okauru was averaging just 2.2 points per game in SEC play. He even went through a four-game stretch in late-January where he did not score a single point and averaged just six minutes per game.
Florida has tried to move away from killing Chiozza with ridiculous minutes lately, opening up more opportunities for Okauru.
He’s fully taken advantage of that as he’s averaged 10.3 points over the last three games.
Each game, he’s looked a little bit more confident and seemed to take another step in his progress.
That was on showcase on Wednesday, despite the loss to Georgia. Okauru had 14 points in 14 minutes, going 5-for-6 from the field and making some clutch plays for the Gators.
As an outsider, it’s hard to tell exactly what happens when a switch flips for a player, but according to head coach Mike White, it’s all a mindset.
“He changed his overall attitude about three weeks ago,” White said. “He got out of the freshman blues and woes, thinking ‘Why am I not playing more?’ He himself obtained a renewed lack of entitlement … It’s just freshman struggles. They feel like they deserve more. And when he kind of rearranged his mindset in terms of ‘What do I need to do to just help this team?’ coincidentally he starts playing better. When it’s about the team you play better.”
That change happened for Okauru after a meeting with White a few weeks back.
White seems to have a way of pushing the right buttons with his players in situations like this one.
“It just got to a point where I was just fed up with not playing,” Okauru said. “So, I went into his office, we just talked and he told me what I had to do to get on the court, and I’ve been working hard and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Now, Okauru wishes he could go back in time to his first day on campus and give himself a piece of advice.
“Just stay patient,” he said. “Stay patient and know your time will come, and keep trusting the process, keep working hard.”
That’s what growing up and maturing is for, and he’s still got plenty of time to do that.
It will be fun to watch Okauru become the player he’s shown he can be now that his focus is in the right place.