Will Jahlil Okafor be a pied piper?
November 29, 2012, 10:25 pm
Elite basketball players like to play with elite basketball players.
They choose to play together on AAU teams in the summer. They transfer from one high school to another to be teammates. And, in some cases, they agree to go to the same college.
Call them pied pipers.
They are recruiting magnets, the kind of skilled or charismatic players who attract other blue chip players. The Wonder Five did it at Kentucky, Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton at UCLA, Cazzie Russell at Michigan and Quinn Buckner at Indiana.
Jahlil Okafor could be another. Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 junior is rated as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014 nationally by Rivals.com, a drop step ahead of 6-foot-4 guard Emmanuel Mudlay of Dallas, Texas, guard Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Minnesota, and his close friend, 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander of Curie.
Okafor has talked to Jones and Alexander about going to college together. They are being recruited by many of the same schools, including Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Ohio State.
"We talk about how much fun it would be and how great it would be to go to school together. We're like brothers. We're in the same national spotlight. We go to some of the same camps and that brings us closer together," Okafor said.
"But I'm not worried about making a commitment now. All of us are focusing on this season. For me, it's all about this season. My goal is to try to help my team win the state championship. I'm very hungry for it, eager to achieve it. Then everything will fall into place for me."
How good is Okafor?
"Okafor needs to be an even greater defensive presence if Whitney Young is to win a state title," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "We think that he will be and that he is more than up to the task.
"At the same time, Okafor still needs to receive even more touches offensively. In the past, there have been too many instances in which Whitney Young has run its offense away from him. We don't see that happening this season."
The Schmidt brothers claim Okafor is more polished than former Mr. Basketball stars Rashard Griffith of King and Eddy Curry of Thornwood at the same stage of their careers. However, as of now, they agree that he isn't a better defender than Prospectives' Anthony Davis, who led Kentucky to the NCAA championship as a freshman and was the NBA's first draft choice last season.
"Davis is the most skilled big man that we have seen come out of Chicago in recent memory, maybe ever," Roy Schmidt said. "That is in no way a knock on Okafor. It is simply something additional for him to strive for."
Okafor was disappointed with last season's 17-10 finish. Anything less than a state title was a disappointment. But he thinks it will be motivation for this year's team, which returns three starters and two promising transfers who figure to make an immediate impact.
"Youth affected us last year. We started three sophomores. Lack of experience was a factor," Okafor said. "Being there once and knowing what it takes to get to the state title game will help us to win this year. Following the coach, trusting the direction he leads us and staying together as a team will give us an edge."
Okafor, a distant cousin of NBA star Emeka Okafor of the Washington Wizards, has been in the spotlight since seventh grade when he was recruited and offered by DePaul in violation of NCAA rules. Last summer, he was tournament MVP for the gold-medal winning USA team in the FIBA Under-17 World Championship.
But can he generate a team chemistry with White, Peak, Reynolds, Madison and Toye in Whitney Young's bid to spoil Simeon's bid for a fourth Class 4A championship in a row?
"We have a lot of great players," Okafor said. "I look forward to playing with Peak and Madison. I am expecting a breakout season from White. And I am expecting a breakout season from Reynolds, too, because he has more experience."
Okafor embraces the new roles that Slaughter has outlined for him--dominant defensive player and team leader.
"With this team, my points won't go up. That's OK as long as we're winning," he said. "I want to increase my rebounds to 15 or more per game and be more of a defensive presence under the boards. I want to be able to defend and help my teammates out by being more vocal and more of a shot-blocker.
"It's a new role for me, being the team leader. It won't be hard to adjust to being more vocal. It's easy to lead when everybody trusts each other. My approach? You have to be different to each player. Depending on the situation, sometimes you have to yell or pull them aside. The role is new for me but I'm learning as I go. I usually lead by example."
And nobody does it better.
Tags: Whitney Young
, Cliff Alexander
, Jahlil Okafor
, Tyus Jones
, The Schmidt brothers