OG Anunoby may only have just played his rookie season in the NBA, but he’s already being touted as British Basketball’s next superstar.
Born in London, the small forward moved over to Indiana to play High School basketball, where he quickly ascended the ranks, forcing himself onto the radar of the Toronto Raptors. OG may have been 23rd on the draft pick list, but he’s more than surpassed all expectations as a player to become one of the best rookie picks of 2017.
After recovering from an ACL tear way ahead of schedule, OG guided the Raptors to the top of the Atlantic Division last season, where he became widely regarded as one of their best defenders, while also offering them more versatility going forward. He’s now one of the Raptor’s brightest prospects in years, having emerged from duels with LeBron James so well that the new Laker and three-time NBA champion even labelled OG as having certified “bright future” status.
That sort of praise shouldn’t be taken lightly – but OG hasn’t let it get to his head. He keeps his family close to him; he shares his apartment in Toronto with his older brother, who joins him and his father in our interview, before he visits his sisters who are at university nearby in Westminster. His hobbies are all the same as your average 20-year-old – he loves memes, Netflix and Young Thug – except this 6 ft 8 in man has a 90-inch wingspan, and fits into the Raptor’s courtside seamlessly alongside DeMar DeRozan and Drizzy Drake.
Before he started ripping up the Summer League with the Raptors, we caught up with OG in London ahead of what’s set to be a fascinating sophomore season in Toronto, where we talked through his move to the 6ix, what tunes he’s bumping in the Raptor’s locker room, and finding out how he became British basketball’s hottest prospect.
VERSUS: You left London when you were three-years-old. Do you come back to the UK much?
OG: This is the first time in a while, but I’ll start coming back more often. I obviously don’t remember a lot growing up here (laughs) – I moved to Missouri when I was three. It was fun, I met a lot of friends there and it was good growing up there for sure. It’s a lot more fun that people say it is, it’s got kind of a bad rep for that.
How old were you when you discovered basketball?
When I was younger I played every sport going. Baseball, soccer – I was a pretty mean midfielder back in the day! But as I got older, maybe when I was like at High School, I started focussing on basketball.
Your dad was a University professor. What advice did he give you when you decided to become a basketball player?
Just work hard, obviously. He actually wanted me to be a baseball player growing up. My older brother, Chigbo, is in the NFL, too – so we’re a sports family. There wasn’t a rivalry between us but he definitely encouraged me to become better.
“Drake encourages us but he doesn’t try to get too involved. He’s in the locker room, he’s one of the boys for sure.”
Right now you’re living in Toronto, which is one of the hottest cities culturally on the planet right now. How’s life there off the court?
Yeah it was different at first, but before moving to Toronto I was living in LA and New York, so they were fairly similar in terms of multiculturalism and size.
The profile of the Raptors has exploded globally with Drake’s partnership. What’s Drake’s influence on the team like? Is it felt? You can obviously see it courtside…
He encourages us, but he doesn’t try to get too involved (laughs). I know it looks like he does sometimes. He’s always cool, really nice guy. He talks to everyone, he’s a really friendly guy. He doesn’t really give speeches and all that, but he’s in the locker room, after games and stuff. He was in and around the camp game one and two of the last series. He’s one of the boys, for sure though.
What do you make of the Pusha T beef? Did he take an L?
Drake can never take an L (laughs). But they’re both good artists.
You’ve dealt well with some of the game’s best players in Harden, LeBron James and Kevin Durant…do you feel playing against them makes you better?
I definitely think it does. Just seeing how good they are first-hand. I was never daunted by them, either. I just straight up wanted to face them as I knew they’d make me perform at a higher level.
What was it like hearing a GOAT like LeBron say “you have a bright future” ?
It was cool, as I used to look up to him when I was younger, so someone like that saying something like that about me was cool.
“These are my people. In the next 10-15 years, more British basketball players can definitely reach a high level.”
Canadians and Canadian basketball is getting better and better now, with two of the four last first draft picks being Canadian. Do you think British basketball can follow that sort of precedent?
I think they can. These are my people here. In the next 10-15 years, as more people start playing, I think British basketball players can definitely reach that level.
Do you follow football or any other sports?
American Football and soccer. I like the Chargers and support Arsenal.
You don’t post much on the ‘gram, which is actually refreshing these days. Is that something you’ll carry on with? What are your thoughts on social media?
I like social media – I think it’s really funny. I’m on Twitter and Insta a fair bit, I just don’t post that much. I love meme pages though.
And the music in the dressing room – are you in control of it?
I try to control it. But Kyle’s usually playing his, and always brings his speakers. He’s more of an old head, so he listens to loads of Jay Z.
I’ve seen the ‘Slatt’ captions and know you’re a big Young Thug fan. Is he the GOAT?
For me, he’s the top guy in the game right now. ‘Barter 6’ and ‘Jeffery’ are his best tapes, for sure.
Who else is on your playlist?
I love Milly Go Lightly off that latest Thugger tape too! She needs to release more stuff. Other than that, I love Lil Uzi Vert, Gunna, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott… then Kanye, too – I actually think the album’s pretty good.
Do you follow UK music?
Giggs and Skepta – obviously off ‘More Life’ – Jorja Smith, too. Oh, and Dave is sick too. And Craig David!
People say once you develop your offence you could become a future MVP. Is that something you’re working towards and something you believe in?
Yeah I definitely believe I can be, if I put in the work. I want to win a championship, too. I definitely feel that’s achievable in the next few years – our current roster is definitely capable of it.
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Photography by Jay Kamara.