Ademola Okulaja, Member of 2 Final Four Teams with UNC, Dies at Age 46

Erin WalshMay 17, 2022

13 Feb 1999: Ademola Okulaja #13 of the North Carolina Tar Heels dribbles the ball during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at the Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins defeated the Tar Heels 81-64.
Andy Lyons

Former North Carolina Tar Heels forward Ademola Okulaja has died, the school announced Tuesday. He was 46.

Okulaja played for the Tar Heels from 1995-96 to 1998-99, helping lead the team to two Final Four appearances in that span.

Carolina Basketball @UNC_Basketball

Carolina Basketball is saddened to learn of the recent, premature passing of Tar Heel forward Ademola Okulaja (1995-99) at age 46.<br><br>Our thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends and teammates.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CarolinaFamily?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CarolinaFamily</a> <a href="https://t.co/zzrKqQa85O">pic.twitter.com/zzrKqQa85O</a>

One of Okulaja's former teammates, Shammond Williams, told C.L. Brown of the News & Observer that he was an "outstanding person" and "a selfless individual who sacrificed his game for the greater good of the team."

In his four seasons at UNC, Okulaja averaged 9.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and 37.4 percent from deep. He eventually became a full-time starter for the Tar Heels, starting all 34 games during the 1998-99 season. He averaged 13.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game during his senior season and was named to the All-ACC first team.

Okulaja was born in Nigeria and moved with his family to Germany when he was young. He ended up representing Deutschland at two FIBA World Cups and five EuroBasket tournaments.

One of his biggest accomplishments came when he helped lead Germany to a bronze medal at the 2002 FIBA World Cup alongside former Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.

In addition to playing at the national team level, Okulaja played professionally in the EuroLeague for Alba Berlin, FC Barcelona, Unicaja Malaga, and Brose Bamberg. He also had stints with Liga ACB's Casademont Girona and Etosa Alicante and EuroCup's Khimki and Pamesa Valencia.

He averaged 12.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.5 steals in his seven-year professional career overseas.

Okulaja was diagnosed with a spinal tumor in 2008 but returned to basketball after one season on the sidelines before announcing his retirement in 2010.