Daniel Ochefu, who played a key role in Villanova’s 2016 NCAA title, then spent a season with the Washington Wizards and two more in the G League, said Wednesday he has signed a contract to play professionally in Japan. He’s flying out Sunday to join the Ibaraki Robots.
“After doing two years in the G League, trying to get back to the NBA -- I’m at a point in my life and career where I can comfortably say I need to focus on something else for this time period,'' said Ochefu, 25.
One NBA source said Ochefu was close to getting a 10-day contract last season with a Western Conference team. He wasn’t made aware of that, the source said.
“That’s the biggest part,’’ the 6-foot-10 Ochefu said of the higher contract offered in Japan, where six-figure contracts are common for American players, compared with $35,000 a year in the G League. “Money plays a lot into it.”
There was still the possibility of getting to an NBA training camp this year, but a choice had to be made. The overseas opportunity would have gone away.
“I’d played in the NBA. I played really good in the G League the following seasons as well,’’ Ochefu said Wednesday at a sports business symposium in Center City. “I had that behind me as well. I just felt that if I pursued the NBA too much -- it’s taking a toll on my body and my mind. Also, on my bank account.”
Did it help that he’d played the year for the Wizards? He’d done it.
“You’ve achieved that dream, that goal,’’ Ochefu said. “Also, financially that first year for me was big. I could take two years in the G League. I don’t think I would have played in the G League [if he hadn’t played in the NBA]; I would have probably started out overseas. Getting that financial security gave me peace of mind to say OK I can do the G League.”
Housing is paid for in the G League -- “but 35 is tough to live on,’’ Ochefu said.
Ochefu still works out at Villanova. Plenty of ex-players come back.
“It’s crazy man, because I’m there and I feel old, but I still feel young because I saw a guy like Harold Pressley,’’ referring to a star of Villanova’s 1985 team. “Then I see Mikal Bridges. I was a junior when he was a redshirt freshman. It’s like, my little brother, basically. But he’s a grown man now, playing in the NBA, he’s about to play with Team USA. It’s great to see.”
The current players, especially all the new freshmen coming in -- “I barely knew any, coming in Saturday. But seeing how they fit the culture, it’s great.”
Are there times when people mimic sweeping a broom, reprising what Ochefu did before the last historic play in the NCAA title game? Ochefu’s contributions to that championship were crucial as he dominated inside throughout March.
“It comes up a lot, for sure,’’ Ochefu said of sweeping the floor just before he set a backcourt screen on the last play.
In his mind, Ochefu said, he was very close to being back in the NBA -- “it’s just how the ball rolls.”