Ademola Okulaja, Former UNC Basketball Star Dies in Berlin, Germany at 46

Ademola Okulaja, a German professional basketball player who played for the North Carolina basketball team, has passed away. Ademola Okulaja’s death was announced on May 17, 2022.

Ademola Okulaja’s cause of death was not reported; however, it was revealed that the basketball star had been battling with cancer for a long time before his death.

Mourning his passing, the Carolina Basketball Team wrote, “Carolina Basketball is saddened to learn of the recent, premature passing of Tar Heel forward Ademola Okulaja (1995–99) at age 46. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends and teammates.”

Born in Nigeria and raised in Germany, Okulaja has a multicultural background. As a forward, he showcased his skills at UNC from 1995 to ’99. In his time as head coach, the Tar Heels made notable appearances in two Final Fours during the ’97 and ’98 seasons.

In a remarkable display of talent and skill, he earned the prestigious title of First-Team All-ACC and was recognised as the Most Valuable Player for the University of North Carolina during his senior season. In a remarkable feat, he became the first player in the illustrious history of Tar Heels basketball to dominate in multiple statistical categories. Specifically, he achieved the distinction of leading the team in scoring, rebounding, three-pointers made, and steals during a single season. During the 1998–99 season, his impressive performance on the court saw him maintain an average of 13.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. In addition, he displayed impressive shooting accuracy, hitting 44.2% of his field goal attempts and an impressive 43.1% from beyond the arc.

After his successful stint at the University of North Carolina, Okulaja embarked on a remarkable professional basketball journey that spanned a decade. The talented player showcased his skills in various European countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain, and Russia, until his retirement in 2009. In a determined pursuit of his basketball dreams, he made not one, not two, but three valiant attempts to join the prestigious NBA. Throughout his journey, he had the unique opportunity to participate in training camps with three esteemed teams: the 76ers, Spurs, and Jazz.

In a remarkable display of skill and dedication, he significantly contributed to the success of the German national basketball team, propelling them to an impressive four consecutive European Championships in the years 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001. The forward has achieved bronze medals with the German national team at both the 2002 and 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championships.

In response to the tragic news of Okulaja’s passing, several of his former UNC teammates took to social media on Tuesday to express their condolences. In a remarkable display of talent and skill, Vince Carter, a highly acclaimed eight-time NBA All-Star, shared the court with Okulaja from 1995 to ’98. However, it was during the ’98 NBA draft that Carter’s exceptional abilities were truly recognised, as he was selected as the fifth overall pick by the Raptors.

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