Jahlil Okafor

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Jahlil Okafor
20140402 MCDAAG Jahlil Okafor dunk.JPG
No. 15 – Duke Blue Devils
Position Center
League Atlantic Coast Conference
Personal information
Born (1995-12-15) December 15, 1995 (age 18)
Fort Smith, Arkansas
Nationality American
Listed height 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m)
Listed weight 265 lb (120 kg)
Career information
High school Whitney Young (Chicago, Illinois)
College Duke
Career highlights and awards

Jahlil Okafor (pronounced Jaah-Leele;[1] born December 15, 1995) is an American high school basketball player from Chicago, Illinois. He has completed his 2013–14 senior season for Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. He has given a verbal commitment to the Duke University men's basketball team as a package with Tyus Jones and will be a freshman for the 2014–15 team.

He has been heavily recruited since before high school and had been at the top of the recruiting rankings for several years.[2] He is a distant cousin of Emeka Okafor. At the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championship, he earned the Tournament MVP for the gold-medal winning USA team. In 2013, Okafor led Whitney Young to the 2013 Chicago Public High School League city championship. He was an All-American as a junior in 2013. The following summer, he was an All-Tournament team selection at the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championship for the gold-medal Team USA.

Okafor led Young to the 2014 Chicago Public High School League city championship game that they lost in a quadruple overtime game against Curie High School and Cliff Alexander that was the lead story on SportsCenter. However, a week later Curie forfeited the championship. His 2014 season culminated with a Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class 4A state championship. As a senior, he excelled in All-star competitions. He was co-MVP of both the 2014 McDonald's All-American Boys Game and the 2014 Jordan Brand Classic game and led his team in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. Following the season, he earned broad All-American recognition and was named national player of the year by Parade, USA Today and McDonald's among others.

Early career[edit]

Okafor is the child of Nigerian descendant Chukwudi (pronounced Chuh-Koodie) and biracial (Caucasian mother) Dacresha Lanett Benton.[3][4] As a youth, Okafor was constantly going back and forth between his mother's home in the 127-resident town of Moffett, Oklahoma and his father's home in Chicago. At age 9, his mother contracted bronchitis causing one of her lungs to collapse two-weeks later before she died. Okafor moved in with his father in Chicago on the South Side before moving to Rosemont.[5] Okafor attended Rosemont Elementary.[6] The adjustment was difficult because he was shy and so tall that other students thought he was put in the class for having failed.[4] In November 2008, during seventh grade he matched his father's height of 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m).[7] Later the family moved to Chicago's North Side so that Okafor could attend Whitney Young.[5]

As a 6-foot-7-inch (2.01 m) eighth-grader, Okafor was recruited by DePaul Blue Demons men's basketball in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recruiting rules. The violation was based on DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto public comments about an offer. Such comments were not permitted by the NCAA.[8] That year, he beat his father in one-on-one basketball games for the first and last time.[4] Initially, interim coach Tracy Webster, made an oral offer on January 30 outside the DePaul locker room at Allstate Arena after the Blue Demons' 59–57 loss to Syracuse.[6] The offer was noted online by ESPNChicago.com and picked up by the press, leading to the problematic statements by Ponsetto.[6][9] In February 2010, Ponsetto confirmed a statement:

This is a young guy we've been talking with for a long time, and who has been to games and we have a relationship with because his uncle works for the Rosemont Police Department...I think it's a prospect who has grown up around DePaul basketball. I think he's probably a fan and someone who has been a fan for some time, since we have played in Rosemont for the last 30 years.[7]

Freshman season[edit]

Okafor visited University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign for a one-day camp in June 2010,[10] and Bruce Weber made Okafor a scholarship offer to play for the Illinois Fighting Illini in September.[11] He began his freshman season on the 2010 Chicago Sun-Times area Top 50 list.[12] He and teammate Paul White were regarded as the best incoming freshmen in the Chicago metropolitan area, according the Chicago Sun-Times's Joe Henricksen.[13] They joined a team with six returning seniors that had finished as state runners up the prior year.[14] Along with 6-foot-10-inch (2.08 m) sophomore Thomas Hamilton Jr. and White, Okafor was part of a trio of Whitney Young players ranked in the top 10 of their respective national classes by ESPNU.[14] Entering the season, Whitney Young was considered to resemble a college team due to its size and athleticism.[15] That year, Okafor feels he was not one of the "key players" on the team, but attending tournaments with elite players such as Austin Rivers and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist inspired him to be one.[16] He posted 7 points and 7 rebounds when Young played senior Anthony Davis' Perspectives Charter Schools.[17] The game was televised by ESPNU.[18] Following his freshman season, he was regarded as the second best college basketball prospect in the Chicago area behind Jabari Parker.[19] The scouting report on him was that he possessed an improved midrange jump shot, nimble feet, soft hands and physical skills at 6-foot-9-inch (2.06 m) that made him a mismatch against almost any high school competitor.[20]

Sophomore season[edit]

He participated in the July 2011 LeBron James Skills Academy.[21][22] Prior to his sophomore season Dave Spahn of SLAM Magazine described Okafor as a player with the footwork and ambidexterity to dominate his opponents, placing him in the conversation for the role of best player in the national class of 2014.[23] In August 2011, ESPN ranked him as the third best player in the class of 2014.[24] He again entered the season as a Top 50 area player in 2011, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.[25] He was also a pre-season first team All-State selection by ESPN HS along with Simeon Career Academy rivals Steve Taylor and Parker, who was a USA Basketball teammate, as well as Young teammate Tommy Hamilton Jr., and Morgan Park High School's Billy Garrett.[26] Okafor and White were featured in Ball So Hard, the first documentary short by Life + Times.[27] Mike Helfgot, of the Chicago Tribune, mentioned Okafor as one of the top 5 pre-season Illinois Mr. Basketball contenders.[28] Young's expected frontcourt lineup of Hamiltion, Okafor and Jermaine Morgan was taller than those of many college basketball teams and considered the best in the state.[29][30] Helfgot and Sun-Times writer Joe Henricksen both noted two highly anticipated regularly scheduled Young games against Simeon and Curie Metropolitan High School as games of interest.[28][31] On December 20, Okafor stated that the programs he was impressed with were Duke, Arizona, Michigan State and Illinois.[32] On December 22, in front of an audience that included John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis at the UIC Pavilion, Okafor had 20 points (10 in the fourth quarter), 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots against cross-town rival Simeon and its star Parker in a 62–55 loss.[33][34][35] Then, on January 22 with nearly a dozen Division I programs in attendance, he posted 9 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots against fellow nationally rated 6-foot-10-inch (2.08 m) sophomore Cliff Alexander of Curie.[36][37]

When Okafor suffered a knee injury that sidelined him, Young was ousted in the second round of the Chicago Public High School League playoffs by John Marshall Metropolitan High School on February 10.[38] On February 28, Weber was among those in attendance to see Okafor lead Young past Harold L. Richards High School in the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class 4A regional semifinal of the state tournament with 26 points.[39] In the March 2 Class 4A regional championship, Okafor had 26 points and 10 rebounds against St. Rita of Cascia High School.[40][41] Coaches Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Thad Matta and Webber as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and cadres of their assistants were among those in attendance to see the March 6 sectional semifinal against rival and eventual state champion Simeon in which Okafor had 9 points and 7 rebounds in a 52–42 loss.[42][43] He finished the season with averages of 24.8 points and 12.6 rebounds.[44] He led his team in points, rebounds, blocked shots and assists.[45]

Following the season, the Chicago Sun-Times named him to the Class 4A All-State first team along with Parker, Keith Carter, Darius Paul and Fred VanVleet.[46] The Chicago Tribune named him to its second team All-State team.[44] The Associated Press named him to its Class 4A second team.[47] He was also selected by the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association to its 25-man boy's All-City team.[48] The Chicago Sun-Times named him to its All-Public League second team as well as its All-area 20-man team.[49][50] By the end of his sophomore season, he started appearing on ballots from ESPN HS's 10-person panel for the Mr. Basketball USA award as the best high school basketball player in the country.[51] He was one of twenty sophomores chosen as Underclass All-Americans by ESPN HS.[52] Some experts even regarded him as the best player in the class of 2014 at the time.[53] That summer he had a chance to scrimmage with Enes Kanter of the Utah Jazz and dominated him.[54]

Junior season[edit]

2012 summer and preseason[edit]

On the first day after the 2012 Chicago Public Teachers Strike, Tom Izzo and John Calipari, the two highest paid college coaches in 2012,[55] were at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School to recruit Okafor.

When Parker eliminated Illinois from his list of possible schools on July 11, 2012, it was described by ESPN's Scott Powers as an impetus for more focused effort by Illinois to lure Okafor.[56] In June 2012, Sports Illustrated named him one of their "Future Game Changers", a group of fourteen young athletes who are considered to be the brightest talents of their respective sport (such as Sarah Hendrickson, Jabrill Peppers, and Taylor Townsend).[57] Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Burlison ranked Okafor as the top recruit in the class of 2014 followed by Tyus Jones on August 16.[58] On September 11, when Okafor was named a monthly blogger for USA Today High School Sports, he noted that he and Jones wanted to attend a Michigan State Spartans football game together.[59]

Students returned to Chicago schools on September 19 following the 2012 Chicago Public Teachers Strike.[60] Tom Izzo and John Calipari both attended open practice at Whitney Young on that day.[61][62] At the time, they were the two highest paid college coaches in nation.[55] That day, Calipari made Okafor an offer to play for Kentucky,[63] joining Ohio State, Michigan State, Louisville, Illinois, Duke, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona as programs that have offered Okafor.[64] Okafor attended Duke's Countdown to Craziness events on October 19,[65] which was the week after most basketball programs celebrated Midnight Madness.[66]

By the fall of his junior season, the Illinois class of 2014 was being mentioned as one of the all time great statewide classes of basketball players. Chicago Sun-Times writer Joe Henricksen noted that there was a high chance that this would be the fifth Illinois class and first since 2002 to include three McDonald's All-Americans.[67] He also noted that the class has a chance to rival if not surpass the classes of 1998 and 2011 which each had nine top 100 players.[68]

Okafor was one of 10 USA Today preseason All-USA selections (along with Aaron Gordon, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Kasey Hill, Jones, Parker, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Andrew Wiggins).[69] Okafor was named as one of the top 50 Chicago area players and top 5 Illinois Mr. Basketball contenders (along with Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Sterling Brown and Malcolm Hill) prior to the season by the Chicago Tribune's Mike Helfgot.[70][71] Whitney Young was the number eight ranked team in the MaxPreps.com national preseason poll.[72] Young entered the season ranked fourteenth in the nation according to ESPN.[73] Prior to the season, Okafor noted that he did not have a short list of schools yet and that both Illinois and DePaul were still in consideration. He had already taken unofficial visits to Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State and UCLA.[74]

2012–13 regular season[edit]

Okafor shooting a free throw
Okafor shooting as Jabari Parker defends against him
Okafor jumping for a rebound

Okafor opened the season on December 1 with 34 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals in a 72–58 victory against (ESPN #15) DeMatha Catholic High School.[75] Some sources detailing this game described him as 7 feet (2.13 m) tall.[76] In late December, cousin Emeka Okafor's alma mater Connecticut gave new coach Kevin Ollie a five-year extension to help recruit the likes of Jahlil Okafor.[77] On December 20, Okafor faced Dakari Johnson's ESPN #1-ranked Montverde Academy. Young was ranked #9 at the time.[78] By some accounts Okafor was the highest-rated center from the Class of 2014, while Johnson, who had reclassified from 2014,[79] was the highest rated from the Class of 2013.[80] Young lost in overtime. Okafor had 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Johnson had 17 rebounds and 4 blocks.[78] On January 19, Okafor led Young to an 85–52 victory over Long Beach Polytechnic High School at the Hoophall Classic with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.[81] At the time Young was ranked #7 by ESPN and Long Beach was ranked #6.[82] The victory gave Young a 7–1 record against nationally ranked teams for the year, moving Young to #2 in the USA Today rankings as they prepared for the January 26 crosstown showdown against Simeon and Parker.[83] At the time, Simeon was ranked #11 by ESPN and Young was ranked #4.[84] Okafor had 8 points and 4 blocks when Young fell to Simeon 44–41 on January 26.[85][86] The game was broadcast nationally by the ESPN networks.[87]

2013 postseason[edit]

Okafor defending against Cliff Alexander in the March 7, 2013 IHSA playoffs

In the first two rounds of the Chicago Public High School League playoffs, Young scored 100 points, defeating Harper High School 100–45 on February 5 and Marshall High School 100–75 on February 7.[88][89] The team then defeated Foreman High School 72–41 on February 10, with the help of 15 points by Okafor,[89] leading his team to a rematch against Orr High School who defeated Young 50–47 for the Red West Division title on February 1.[90] Okafor scored 26 points and added 13 rebounds[91] in a 66–51 February 13 semifinals victory, setting up a February 15 finals contest against Morgan Park High School.[92][93] Okafor tallied 19 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocked shots, including a game-saving block against Billy Garrett, Jr., in a 60–56 overtime Public League Championship game victory over Morgan Park.[94][95] Several of the Morgan Park players were Okafor's teammates on the summer Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit, including Garrett.[92]

Okafor in the March 8, 2013 IHSA playoffs

On February 26, the Associated Press Illinois Class 4A basketball rankings showed Whitney Young at number 1 and Simeon at number 2 as the state playoffs began,[96] and it was widely expected that those two schools would meet on March 8 for the Argo Sectional championships.[97] However, it was also expected that Young's road to the sectional finals would include a March 6 meeting with Curie Metropolitan High School. According to Chicago Sun-Times writer Joe Henricksen, the March 6 state playoff meeting between Young and Curie was anticipated because it would pit Okafor against Alexander, making it the most highly touted IHSA playoff matchup of centers since 1988 when LaPhonso Ellis led East Saint Louis' Lincoln High School against Eric Anderson's St. Francis de Sales High School.[97] Mike Helfgot of the Chicago Tribune said that there have not been many matchups between big men this good with so much at stake.[98] On March 1, Young defeated De La Salle Institute as Okafor contributed 23 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots in a 79–53 victory to earn a matchup against Alexander and Curie.[99] Curie and Alexander won the only prior meeting on January 22, 2012.[98] The February 2013 Great Plains blizzard caused controversial postponements of several IHSA games including the March 6 Young-Curie game, which was delayed one day.[100][101] Young defeated Curie 62–58 as Okafor was limited to 13 points and 3 blocks while dealing with foul trouble.[102] The State's #1 and #2 teams met on March 8 in the sectional finals (statewide round of 16), with both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune predicting three-time state defending champion Simeon would defeat the reigning city champion.[103][104] Simeon defeated Young 69–51 as Okafor scored 13 points and had 5 rebounds.[105] Following the game, Okafor took just five days off before beginning his basketball offseason workouts and games.[106]

By the end of his junior year his top offers included Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona, UCLA, Kansas, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State, but he had no intention of determining his preferences immediately. At the time, he talked about how he works on his footwork and mobility with jump rope exercises and other aspects of his game with personal trainers. He notes he has been fortunate to have had slow steady growth rather than growth spurts. He credits his ability to maintain his footwork to this good fortune. Because of his heavy recruitment from people like Coach Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski and Coach Calipari's assistants, he is able to get lots of unsolicited advice to help his game from some of basketball's most respected minds.[54]

2013 offseason[edit]

In early April 2013, he hosted a home visit by Ohio State, while Michigan State, North Carolina, Kansas, Illinois, DePaul, Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke were considered serious contenders.[107] On April 5 he participated in Milwaukee's NY2LA Sports Swish ‘N Dish, his first summer league tournament with the Mac Irvin Fire.[106] He teamed up with point guard Jalen Brunson to earn co-MVP honors as the Fire won the tournament.[108] He also scheduled late April home visits from Baylor, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State who initiated the visits.[109] At that time, his father believed it was very possible and that Okafor and Tyus Jones, who has shortlisted Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State, will matriculate together.[109] By late April, there were rumors that Alexander and Justise Winslow would attend whatever school Jones and Okafor attended.[110]

On May 30, Okafor cut his list of schools to eight: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State.[111][112] The list overlapped with Jones' March 9 final 7 (Baylor, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Ohio State) in six schools.[113] Although Alexander was ranked as the fifth best player in the class of 2014 by Rivals.com and had offers from four of the six schools common to both by the beginning of June, he said the chances of him matriculating with Jones and Okafor was slim.[114]

Awards and honors[edit]

Okafor was recognized as a 2013 All-Public League first team selection by the Chicago Sun-Times along with Nunn, Parker, Alexander and Billy Garrett, Jr.[115] On February 28, he was named the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.[116] On March 25, Okafor finished as runner-up in the Illinois Mr. Basketball voting to Parker by a 315–277 point margin, including a 43–40 first place vote margin.[117][118] On April 17, he was a first team All-USA selection by USA Today along with Wiggins, Aaron Harrison, Randle and Parker.[119] Following the demise of ESPN HS, HighSchoolHardwood.com undertook several honoraria selections. Okafor was a HighSchoolHardwood.com First Team All-American selection along with Wiggins, Parker, Aaron Gordon and Nigel Williams-Goss.[120] He succeeded Parker as the HighSchoolHardwood.com National Junior of the Year.[121] Although MaxPreps.com did not select him as a first team All-American,[122] they did select him as a Junior All-American along with Stanley Johnson, Joel Berry, Jones, and Emmanuel Mudiay.[123]

Senior season[edit]

2013 summer and preseason[edit]

Following his time with Team USA, Okafor participated in the Nike Pro-Am Chi-League.[124][125] He also competed in the All-Peach Jam, where he was a first team performer.[126] He also appeared in the Adidas Nations event, where his team lost in the championship game.[127] As the summer evaluation period continued, the unique nature of the possibility of Okafor and Jones, who are not related and not teammates, going to college as a package continued to get a lot of press.[128][129][130] On August 6, Okafor tweeted that he would take an official visit to Kentucky on September 9.[131] The night before his August 29 official visit to Baylor, he tweeted about his impending departure.[132] Okafor visited Baylor with Jones as the two were ranked 1–2 in the Rivals.com class of 2014 rankings. At the time, Okafor's official visit schedule was as follows: Kentucky (Sept. 9), Arizona (Oct. 11), Kansas (Oct. 18) and Duke (Oct. 25).[133]

On September 4, 2013, Rivals.com updated their ranking with Okafor retaining the top spot.[134] Rivals clarified that Okafor and Jones, who are considered a package deal, had visited Baylor together and would visit both Kansas and Duke together, but that they would visit Kentucky separately.[134] Okafor made his visit to Kentucky for the Kentucky Alumni Charity Game as scheduled. Other class of 2014 recruits in attendance that weekend included Devin Booker and point guard Tyler Ulis.[135] On September 13, Ulis committed to Kentucky.[136][137] Subsequently, Jones canceled his September 27–29 visit to Kentucky.[138] As Okafor and Jones visited Kansas and Duke together during the last two weekends of October, those two schools were considered the favorites for the services of both.[139] By October 6, Scout.com sources reported that Okafor had cut his list to four schools: Baylor, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, but this was not an official cut according to what ESPN's Scott Power's reported about discussion with Okafor's father.[140][141] On October 7, the Hoophall Classic schedule was announced and Whitney Young was scheduled to play Oak Hill Academy on January 20.[142] At Kansas, head coach Bill Self scheduled an unprecedented second open practice for the weekend of the Okafor/Jones visit.[143][144] ESPN.com's number 14 overall prospect Winslow attended Duke for an official visit the same weekend that Okafor and Jones did.[145] FOX Sports and Scout.com analysit Evan Daniels reported that Self visited Okafor and Alexander in Chicago on October 30.[146] At the beginning of October, rumors began that Jones and Okafor would meet in a nationally televised game on December 12 that could be the first regular season high school basketball game ever broadcast on ESPN from Minnesota.[147] On November 15, ESPN announced the high school basketball broadcast schedule for its family of networks and the rumors were verified.[148]

On November 7 Okafor was tied for third with Stanley Johnson (behind points leader Emmanuel Mudiay and Alexander) in the Mr. Basketball USA preseason tracker. Although he had the most first place votes (4 of 10 ballots), he was only listed on 7 of the ballots.[149] The preseason points leader has gone on to win the award in four of the prior five years.[150] November 11, Jones and Okafor tweeted simultaneously that they would make simultaneous verbal commitments on November 15 from their local high schools.[151][152] His verbal commitment announcement was scheduled on the same date as Alexander and Stanley Johnson. According to ESPN, all four were among the top 10 in the national class (Okafor #1, Alexander #3, Jones #4 and Johnson #9). On the eve of their announcement, Duke was the heavy favorite to land Jones and Okafor.[153] He made his verbal commitment on ESPNU to Duke basketball on November 15.[154][155] After Okafor committed, he and his father took to Twitter to get the Duke fanbase to attempt to coax Winslow to commit to Duke.[156][157] Prior to his senior season, USA Today named him to its 10-man preseason All-USA team along with Alexander, Stanley Johnson, Jones, Trey Lyles, Mudiay, Malik Newman, Kelly Oubre, D'Angelo Russell, and Myles Turner.[158] On November 21, Winslow committed to Duke, giving them the number one recruiting class in the nation with Jones, Okafor, Winslow and Grayson Allen all committed.[159] Okafor was joined on the Chicago Tribune's preseason Illinois Mr. Basketball top 5 by Alexander, Brunson, Tyler Ulis and Keita Bates-Diop.[160]

2013–14 regular season[edit]

As Young began the season, Okafor was complemented by Georgetown commit Paul White and St. Louis commit Miles Reynolds.[161] Young entered the season ranked number 5 by USA Today's, but lost the season opener at UIC Pavilion to number 21 ranked St. John Bosco High School on a buzzerbeater after leading the entire game. Okafor had 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds.[162] On December 12, Apple Valley had a 5–0 record (including victories over state powerhouses DeLaSalle and Hopkins) and national rankings of 41 by USA Today and 16 by MaxPreps, while Young entered the game 1–1 with a 34 ranking.[163] That day, in front of Mike Krzyzewski and ESPN2's national audience, Young beat Jones' Apple Valley 80–70. Okafor had 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Jones had 29 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.[164][165][166] Okafor dominated the December 27–30, Les Schwab Invitational hosted by Liberty High School by leading the tournament in scoring (31) and rebounding (12.5) and finished 2013 atop the three major recruiting databases (ESPN, Rivals and Scout).[167] Young went 2–2 in the tournament, losing to Rainier Beach High School[168] and tournament MVP Shaqquan Aaron[169] as well as losing to Oregon’s defending Class 6A state champions West Linn High School.[170] On January 4 at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, West Virginia, Okafor earned the tournament MVP based on a 24-point 9-rebound performance against Mudiay's Prime Prep Academy.[171][172] The game was Whitney Young's second nationally broadcast game via ESPN2.[173] In early January, Okafor continued to be a leading contender for national player of the year, gaining sole possession of third place in the Mr. Basketball USA race and appearing on nine of ten ballots.[174] In one of the more notable Chicago Public League contests of the year, Okafor led Young over Orr High School with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks on January 15 when the teams were ranked 3rd and 4th in the city by the Chicago Tribune.[175][176] In the January 20 Hoophall Classic, Okafor and teammate Paul White led Young to a victory over Oak Hill Academy, which featured three future ACC rivals for Okafor.[177][178] On January 31, Okafor and Young lost to incoming Stanley Johnson, Rex Pflueger and undefeated, three-time defending California state champion Mater Dei High School 69-57.[179] Okafor had 17 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks, but according to Fox Sports, he was "double teamed from the moment he got off of the bus". Johnson had 27 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks.[180] Okafor was held scoreless in the first quarter and to 4 points in the first half as St. Louis-bound teammate Miles Reynolds scored Young's first 16 points (giving Young a 16-15 first quarter lead) and 21 total.[181][182]

2014 postseason[edit]

Okafor against Cliff Alexander (#11) in various shots: floater (left), dunk (middle), standing (right)

As the CPL playoffs began on February 5, a February 21 championship game clash between Okafor and Alexander was pondered in the local press after the 32-team brackets were announced.[183] The CPL playoffs began with victories over Carl Schurz High School by 71–54 and Chicago Vocational High School 57–39.[184] On February 16, Young defeated Morgan Park High School 72–62. Okafor had 19 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks, earning a rematch against Orr on February 19 in the CPL semifinals.[185][186] The semifinals and finals were broadcast on ESPN3.[187] Okafor and Young won 55–53 coming back from a 15-point half time deficit to reach the anticipated city championship matchup with Curie and Alexander at the Jones Convocation Center. Okafor had 16 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks.[188][189] The matchup was the most anticipated city championship game since at least 1998 when fellow McDonald's All-Americans Quentin Richardson of Young and Corey Maggette of Fenwick High School were both top 15 players.[190] On February 20, Okafor remained fourth place in the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, holding the only two first place votes not going to Alexander.[191] Curie won the city championship 69–66 in quadruple overtime as Okafor had 16 points and 9, 4 or 8 rebounds before fouling out with 2:13 remaining in regulation depending on which source you believe (Chicago Tribune Comcast SportsNet or the Chicago Sun-Times). This came against Alexander who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks according to Chicago Tribune and Comcast SportsNet, while the Chicago Sun-Times and Sports Illustrated credited him with just 12 rebounds.[192][193][194][195] The CPL Championship game was attended by Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel and was the lead story on the late edition of SportsCenter.[195][196][197] Seven days later, Curie was forced to forfeit all of its wins and the CPL championship due to the academic ineligibility of seven of its players. Young was not recognized as the champion, however, and the title will remain vacant.[198][199][200]

Okafor dunking in the 2014 IHSA championship game

Okafor and Alexander are vying for a host of local and national player of the year awards.[189] Young and Curie were both in the Marist Class 4A sectional in the 2014 IHSA playoffs and could have met again in the round of sixteen on March 14 if they had won three regional contests.[201] Okafor announced that he would visit Duke for the March 8 Carolina–Duke rivalry game along with Myles Turner (between potential March 7 and March 11 IHSA contests).[202] Despite forfeiting all wins in CPL games, Curie remained eligible to compete in the IHSA playoffs due to differences in eligibility rules.[198][200] However, three of Alexander's key teammates were ineligible for the IHSA playoffs and Curie lost to 11–11 DuSable High School by an 88–85 margin in overtime after Alexander fouled out.[203][204] Young defeated Reavis High School 76–44 in their first round IHSA playoff game on March 4. Okafor had 15 points and 7 rebounds.[205] On March 7 Okafor had 7 rebounds and 7 blocks to go along with either 22 or 24 points depending on the source as Young defeated De La Salle Institute 73–60.[206][207] Young defeated Simeon 72–64 on March 12 as Okafor had 19 points and 11 rebounds.[208] On March 14, Okafor posted 35 points and 13 rebounds in a 75–66 victory over St. Rita of Cascia High School (who featured Kentucky-bound Charles Matthews), earning Young its first sectional title since 2009 and leaving them one victory away from the final four.[209] On March 18, Okafor led Young to a 58–32 victory over Loyola Academy with 12 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 blocks.[210] On March 21 Okafor's 33 points and 14 rebounds enabled Young to overcome a record setting 56-point performance by Brunson with a 75–68 victory over Stevenson High School.[211][212][213][214] On March 22, Okafor and Young won the IHSA Class 4A state championship by defeating Benet Academy 46–44. Okafor only produced 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists as he battled Xavier-bound Sean O'Mara.[215][216] He finished the season with averages of 24.1 points and 11.3 rebounds. However, those numbers don't explain how his unselfish play in the face of double and triple teams led to team success.[217]

Okafor made this dunk for a 103–102 west lead with less than 40 seconds left in the 105–102 2014 McDonald's Game victory.

Okafor earned co-MVP (with Justin Jackson) of the April 2, 2014, McDonald's All-American Game after posting 17 points and 7 rebounds, including the go ahead dunk with less than 40 seconds remaining,[218] for the winning west team in a 105–102 victory.[219][220] On April 12, he posted a 14-point 10-rebound double-double in a 84–73 Team USA Nike Hoops Summit victory over the world team.[221][222] On April 18 in the Jordan Brand Classic, he earned co-MVP with (Alexander) by posting 29 points and 9 rebounds.[223][224]

Awards and honors[edit]

Okafor was selected to the 10-man Team USA for the 17th annual Nike Hoop Summit on April 12, 2014 at the Moda Center. He was selected along with fellow Chicagoan Alexander as well as fellow Duke commits Jones and Winslow.[225][226] He was also selected to the 24-player 37th annual April 2, 2014 McDonald's All-American Boys Game at the United Center. He was joined as a McDonald's All-American by fellow Chicagoans Ulis and Alexander as well as fellow Duke commits Jones, Winslow and Grayson Allen.[227][228] He was recognized as first team All-City along with teammate White, Alexander, Louis Adams, Jr. of Orr, and Luwane Pipkins of Bogan High School by the Chicago Sun-Times.[229] On February 18, he became one of three finalists for the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award along with Alexander and Stanley Johnson.[230] On March 10 he was one of 26 players selected for the April 18, 2014 Jordan Brand Classic again along with fellow Chicagoans Ulis and Alexander as well as fellow Duke commits Jones, Winslow and Allen. He was also joined by former Young teammate L. J. Peak.[231] He was named Associated Press Class 4A 1st team All-state with Alexander, Brunson, Ulis and O'Mara.[232]

He was selected as the 2014 National Player of the Year from among the 20 Parade All-Americans.[233][234] He was also recognized by the McDonald's All-American Game organization as its 2014 Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year.[217] USA Today recognized Okafor as its national player of the year when naming its All-USA Boys Basketball Team along with Alexander, Oubre, Mudiay, and Stanley Johnson.[235] Okafor beat Alexander in the Illinois Mr. Basketball voting by a 492–402 vote.[236] He earned first team All-American recognition from MaxPreps on April 13.[237] Okafor was named the 2013-14 Chicago Tribune/WGN Ch. 9 Athlete of the Year.[238]

Rankings[edit]

In 2011, center Dakari Johnson was named National Freshman of the Year by ESPN HS.[239] In the following months, Okafor beat out Johnson for a spot on the 2011 FIBA Americas Under-16 Championship Team USA.[240] Okafor spent his sophomore season ranked as the number one center and second best player in the national class of 2014 by SLAM Magazine behind Andrew Wiggins, according to SLAM's Franklyn Calle.[241][242][243] In January 2012 during his sophomore season, he was ranked third in the class by ESPNU.[244][245] By April, he was ranked second.[246] By the end of his sophomore year, there was talk that with Jabari Parker Chicago might produce the number one high school player in the country in back to back years, something that they had come close to with Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas in the late 1970s.[247] Also in the 1981 NBA draft Aguirre and Thomas were selected first and second.[248] On October 25, 2012, Andrew Wiggins reclassified into the class of 2013,[249] which cleared the way for Okafor to assume the number one ranking in the Rivals.com ranking for the class of 2014.[250] As of November 2012, he was listed number one in the national class of 2014 by Rivals.com and number two by ESPN.[251] He remained number one according to Rivals with its March 14, 2013 rankings update, following his junior season.[252]

Name Hometown High school / college Height Weight Commit date
Jahlil Okafor
C
Chicago, IL Whitney Young (IL) 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 267.5 lb (121.3 kg) Nov 15, 2013 
Scout:5/5 stars   Rivals:5/5 stars   247Sports: N/A    ESPN grade: 97
Overall recruiting rankings: Scout: 1, 1 (C)   Rivals: 1, 1 (C)  ESPN: 1, 1 (IL), 1 (C)
  • Note: In many cases, Scout, Rivals, 247Sports, and ESPN may conflict in their listings of height and weight.
  • In these cases, the average was taken. ESPN grades are on a 100-point scale.

Sources:

Comparisons[edit]

Okafor's last basket against Cliff Alexander in the 2014 Chicago Public High School League championship game demonstrates the footwork, finesse and polish that Okafor is known for.

Prior to his freshman high school season, he was described as "a young Jared Sullinger" by ESPN's John Stovall.[253] During his sophomore high school season, which coincided with Jared Sullinger's sophomore college basketball season, ESPN's Dave Telep devoted an article to making comparisons between the 6-foot-10-inch (2.08 m) 270-pound (122.5 kg) Okafor and Sullinger, noting that the former could pass as the little brother of the latter.[254] According to Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times, at the end of his sophomore high school season, Okafor was "the [Chicago] area's most refined post player since Thornwood's Eddy Curry."[46] According to his own high school coach, Tyrone Slaughter, Okafor is more polished than both Curry and King College Prep High School's Rashard Griffith were at the same stage.[247] His father describes him as a combination of Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon because of his footwork and intelligent style of play.[76] Duncan comparisons have become common.[255] Upon leading his high school to the 2013 Chicago Public High School League Championship as a junior Mike O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times described him as " the best big man the city has seen in a generation".[95] Okafor considers Duncan, Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal his role models, despite the reduced emphasis on big men in the NBA.[54] Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that by the summer before his senior season, an NBA executive told him that Okafor was "the most skilled high school center he's ever scouted".[256] As a senior, he and crosstown fellow Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award finalist Alexander were compared by a Chicago Sun-Times photographer as follows: "Okafor is Beverly Hills, Cliff is Inglewood." because Okafor is known for his polished footwork and finesse, while Alexander is known for his dominating power game of dunks and blocks.[197] Sun-Times reporter Michael O'Brien stated the comparison more eloquently saying that for the next generation area big men will be compared to the duo: "Alexander as the gold standard for speed, power and athleticism; Okafor for technique, poise and polish."[257]

International play[edit]

In October 2010, he successfully tried out for USA Basketball's 2011–12 USA Developmental National Team.[258] In June 2011,[258] he qualified for the 12-man United States team at the 2011 FIBA Americas Under-16 Championship along with Simeon rivals Parker and Kendrick Nunn.[259] In the gold medal game, Okafor made all of his field goal attempts posting 18 points and 14 rebounds.[260] For the tournament, his 46 rebounds over 5 games ranked him second on the United States team (to Aaron Gordon) and third at the Championships in rebounding.[261]

He was a member of USA Basketball's 12-man Team USA at the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championship with Parker and Nunn again.[262] His listed height was 6 feet 11 inches (2.11 m).[263] At a two-game four-team preliminary exhibition tournament in Las Palmas, Canary Islands the week before the championship began, he was named tournament MVP.[264] He was also named MVP of the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championship for the gold medal-winning United States team.[265][266] Okafor posted 17 points and 8 rebounds in the gold medal game.[267] Over the course of the tournament, he was the second-leading scorer with 13.6 points per game and second-leading rebounder for the United States with 8.2 rebounds per game.[268]

On May 21, 2013, USA Basketball announced the roster of 24 players, including Okafor, who have accepted invitations to the June 14–19 2013 USA Basketball Men's U19 World Championship Team Training camp. The camp was used to select the 12-man team for the June 27 — July 7, 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Czech Republic.[269] Okafor made the final roster that was announced on June 18.[270][271] The team won the gold medal and Okafor made the All-Tournament team along with teammate and tournament MVP Gordon.[272] He led the tournament with 77% field goal percentage,[273] and he was the only player on the all tournament team who would return to high school.[217] However, coaches Billy Donovan and Shaka Smart told him his weak link was his conditioning.[255]

Personal[edit]

Okafor (center) at his November 15, 2013 verbal commitment press conference with his father Chukwudi and aunt Chinyere Okafor-Conley. Jahlil and Chukwudi are wearing Duke University baseball caps to signify his commitment.

His mother, Dacresha Lanett Benton,[4] passed away when he was 9 years old, leaving him to be raised by his father Chukwudi and aunt Chinyere Okafor-Conley,[6] whom he refers to as his "auntie mom".[3] His parents met in Fort Smith, Arkansas when Chuck played basketball for a local junior college.[3] "My deepest fear is losing someone else close to me," Jahlil told Chicago magazine. "That’s something I think about way more than I should."[3]

Jahlil has an older sister, Jalen,[4] and 2 younger brothers. His father has 5 Chicago-area siblings.[5] His uncle works for the police department in Rosemont, Illinois.[7] His father, who is known as Chuck Okafor, is 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m)[7] and played power forward for Westark Community College, West Texas A&M University and Carl Albert State College.[3][5] His parents had basketball scholarships at Carl Albert State College at the same time.[3] Chuck had been an All-City High School basketball player for Bowen High School.[3] His mother also played college basketball.[4] Okafor plays chess and the saxophone as well as the tuba.[6][274] In junior high, he participated in the stage crew for a musical.[3] He is a distant cousin of Emeka Okafor.[6] According to one of his tweets, he is also related to a member of the 2013 Baltimore Ravens.[275] By eighth grade, he was projected to grow to over 7 feet (2.13 m) tall,[6] with some projections as high as 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 m).[8][10] Some sources began describing him as 7 feet (2.13 m) tall before he turned 17.[76] He has been friends with Tyus Jones since age 8.[109] He is of Nigerian descent and travelled to the African nation when he was in seventh grade.[276]

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External links[edit]