De Jesus: Okafor looks to lead Duke to top
Manuel De Jesus | Sunday, November 23, 2014
The road to March Madness — one of the greatest American cultural phenomenons — is now underway, and as we watch the elite teams distinguish themselves from the pretenders, it would be a travesty if we fail to recognize the play of some of the best players on the court. Specifically, I would like to highlight the play of Duke’s preseason All-American, Jahlil Okafor.
The freshman center is already terrorizing opponents in the paint, five games into his collegiate career. He is averaging 15.8 points, eight rebounds and shooting 60 percent from the field while leading Duke to an early 5-0 record. Before going to play for Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, Okafor was projected to be an NBA lottery pick based solely on his high school play.
Okafor played his high school ball at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, where he led the Dolphins to a state title as a senior. Being from Chicago myself, I was lucky enough to watch him play a couple of games. Against another basketball powerhouse, Simeon, Okafor played an outstanding game against another former Duke star, Jabari Parker, but lost.
Despite that, it was clear that Okafor was incredibly talented. His physicality was second to none, and he was unstoppable when scoring. Similar to his current style of play, Okafor combined old-school physical basketball with a smooth finesse in the post. His versatility obviously served him well, as he went on to win MVP of the 2014 McDonald’s All-American game, 2014 Illinois Mr. Basketball and National Player of the Year for USA Today and the Chicago Sun-Times.
In addition to his success in Chicago, Okafor made his stamp in international competition. He won gold medals in three straight summers playing for team USA’s U-16, U-17 and U-19 teams. While playing for Team USA, his recruitment activity shot through the roof as he was working with elite college basketball coaches like Florida coach Billy Donovan.
Following Parker’s footsteps, Okafor decided to commit to Duke after carefully considering other offers from Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Kansas. Competing against other recruits like center Cliff Alexander from Curie High School for the top spot in the 2014 recruiting class, Okafor proved that he was a national recruiting gem after leading Whitney Young to the Class 4A state title while scoring well over 20 points per game his senior year.
When it was time to announce where he would be playing college basketball, Okafor’s decision came down to being able to play with his childhood friend, Tyus Jones, who is now the point guard for the Blue Devils. Already on the watch-lists for the Wooden and the Naismith awards, Okafor is primed to have a big season at Duke.
Not surprisingly, Okafor’s family consists of former and current basketball players. Both of his parents received athletic scholarships to play basketball, and his distant cousin Emeka Okafor is a free agent center in the NBA. After losing his mother when he was nine, Okafor was raised by his father Chukwudi Okafor, who was an All-City basketball player in high school, and his aunt Chinyere Okafor-Conley, who became a mother figure for Jahlil.
To clear up any questions, I’m not a Duke fan. It just happens that one of the more interesting and dominating players in the country plays for Duke. Regardless of who you are a fan of, it’s only fair to recognize when someone’s great play unfolds before our eyes.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.