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Mario Hezonja explains how he prevented becoming Jahlil Okafor with the Magic


New York Knicks offseason signing Mario Hezonja didn’t have the dream start he expected to have with the Orlando Magic after being drafted fifth overall by the team in 2015. Yet his patience and positive attitude were what kept him from becoming an early journeyman like Jahlil Okafor, still looking to find his place in the NBA.

“I was supposed to be in Jahlil Okafor’s situation (in Philadelphia), like, ‘We’re not going to play you, and you’re just going to sit on the bench,’” said Hezonja, reflecting back on his three years with the Magic, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. “But because I was not an a**hole, I was not b*tching to teammates, I worked hard, they played me.”

After getting relative garbage minutes in his first two years in the league, Hezonja finally got his shot once swingman Terrence Ross got hurt, averaging 14 points and 5.6 rebounds on 46 percent shooting during his 30 games as a starter last season.

That was enough of a sample size for the Knicks to a take a one-year, $6.5 million gamble on Hezonja, who is bound to see more action with this youth-infused roster than he did with the Magic.

Hezonja cited his positivity and work ethic as reasons he was able to navigate his way out of Orlando and into a better situation as a free agent.

“I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the worst,” Hezonja said. “This is my three years in Orlando (motions an up-and-down rollercoater). It was unfortunate. If you would ever say back then when I was drafted, ‘Mario, this is what will happen.’ I’d say, ‘Hell no. I’m the guy here.’

“But it happens. And it’s about who you are as a person. You can’t act like an ass and like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ You have to work at everything. And that’s the beauty of the NBA. A lot of stuff happens.”

Now all that is left for the Croatian wing is to prove what he can do with the right opportunity in his hands.