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NBA PM: Jahlil Okafor Nearing College Decision
Posted By Alex Kennedy On August 6, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In NCAA | No Comments
Jahlil Okafor, the top player in the 2014 recruiting class, talked about his college decision, the possibility of being a one-and-done player and much more in this exclusive interview with HOOPSWORLD.Watch More Video Here
Jahlil Okafor is, literally and figuratively, the center of attention when it comes to college basketball’s 2014 recruiting class. The 17-year-old is one of the best big man prospects in recent memory, with fundamentals, skills and footwork that have drawn comparisons to Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
While most young centers rely on their size, power and athleticism in the paint, Okafor prefers to use his wide array of low-post moves to dominate. Sure, he has broken two rims in his high school career and embarrassed many more defenders with poster dunks, but it’s his fundamentals that separate him from the other big men who have been labeled the “next great big man” as teenagers.
There are some in NBA circles who believe Okafor could play in the league right now if given the opportunity, and he’s already being penciled in as the top overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by most talent evaluators. However, he must first prove himself at the college level.
Okafor is currently considering eight schools – Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona and Baylor – and he’s expecting to make a decision in the next several months. So far, he has two official visits scheduled at Baylor and Kentucky. While some young players would drag out their decision and revel in the national spotlight, Okafor wants to get the process over with before the start of his senior season of high school.
“I don’t have a leader right now, but I have Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona and Baylor,” Okafor told HOOPSWORLD. “Those schools, they all have great things to offer, so it’s going to be very tough. … I have to get down to all those schools and see what I like and try to come down to it from there.
“I’m pretty prepared. I have a lot of people that went through the same thing as me such as Jabari Parker and a few other people in the older classes. They pretty much talked to me and told me what to expect, but I don’t plan on holding down my decision too much longer. I want to make a decision before my season starts, my senior season. I don’t want to have to worry about that in my last year, so hopefully by November or December I’ll know where I’m going.”
While Okafor doesn’t acknowledge a frontrunner, Duke is widely regarded the favorite to land the big man. Okafor’s AAU coach, Mike Irvin, has said that the Blue Devils are leading the race, and the fact that Duke’s prized 2013 recruit Parker is advising Okafor bodes well for the program.
Okafor and Parker have a lot in common. Both are from Chicago and were heralded from a young age. However, the biggest thing that Okafor and Parker have in common is that they have both hinted at the possibility of bucking college basketball’s one-and-done trend.
Parker has made headlines by saying that he may stay at Duke for more than just his freshman season, even though he’ll almost certainly be a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft if he declares. Okafor is approaching his collegiate career the same way, open to the possibility of staying on campus for more than one year. When asked if it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be a one-and-done player, Okafor doesn’t hesitate with his response.
“No, not at all,” Okafor said. “I talked to all the college coaches, and that is a possibility, but I’m going into college to win a national championship, and whatever happens, happens. I’m not going in to there thinking I’m a ‘one and done’ so we’ll see what happens.”
Okafor just competed in the annual adidas Nations tournament, which showcases the top high school players in the country, where he averaged 13.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Prior to that, he starred for USA Basketball’s Under-19 Team in the FIBA World Championship, leading the squad to a gold medal for just the third time in the last eight U19 championships since 1987.
“It was amazing,” Okafor said of his experience with Team USA. “There was a lot of pressure on us because in the past 26 years we had only won the gold medal twice, so USA Basketball called upon us and told us that it was really important for USA Basketball to win that specific age group, so it meant a lot. It was a very intense three-to-four weeks of basketball. I was under the instruction of Billy Donovan, Shaka Smart and Tony Bennett, and it really improved me as a player.
“I’ve grown a lot. I think one thing that’s grown is my defense. I take defense more seriously. Also, when I get double- or triple-teamed, instead of forcing the shot and being frustrated, I’m looking for my teammates more. So, I think those two things have really helped me and how I’ve matured in the past 12 months. … I’m realizing the better shape I’m in, the more dominant I can be. I can play longer, I can play better and I can run the floor. I want to be more dominant on the defensive end, just prevent skilled players in the low post from being able to score. I can score pretty much anytime a man is guarding me, but I want to be more known as a defender, so that’s one thing I’m trying to take more seriously, being more of a dominant defender.”
Okafor’s ceiling is extraordinarily high and, as was the case with top 2014 recruit Andrew Wiggins, whichever team lands him will almost certainly be in the running for a national championship.
New Regime Changing Suns’ Culture
When the Phoenix Suns hired Ryan McDonough as their new general manager, it became clear that they were planning to rebuild through the draft. That’s because McDonough earned a reputation as one of the best talent evaluators in the league during his time as a member of the Boston Celtics’ front office.
McDonough spent three seasons as the assistant general manager of the Celtics, where he was responsible for running the team’s draft. He’s the one who pushed for the selections of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley among others. Now, as Phoenix’s GM, he has stockpiled draft picks so that he can take advantage of his biggest strength as he reshapes the Suns’ roster.
The Suns could have as many as three first-round picks in the talented 2014 NBA Draft and five picks in the next two drafts. The players that Phoenix selects will join a young core that already includes up-and-coming players like Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Archie Goodwin and Miles Plumlee among others.
McDonough’s fingerprints are already all over the Suns since he has made two trades in the several months since he took over the team. He completed the three-team deal with the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks that netted Bledsoe and Caron Butler, as well as the deal with the Indiana Pacers that netted Plumlee, Gerald Green and a pick.
“When you get one of these jobs, a lot comes at you in a short period of time,” McDonough said. “We had to hire our coaching staff and I had to put my scouting staff together. Then, we obviously had to prepare for our draft and free agency, and then the [trades]. So, it’s been a lot, but it’s been fun. I feel like we’re off to a good start, but it’s only a start and we still got a long way to go.”
The 33-year-old is doing his best to change the culture in Phoenix. The Suns are currently in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, and the franchise was seemingly lacking a long-term plan before McDonough stepped in. Now, McDonough has ushered in a youth movement – hiring first-time head coach in Jeff Hornacek, assembling talented youngsters and stockpiling draft picks.
“Our expectation is to just see improvement,” McDonough said. “We want them to play hard and we want them to play together. We’re coming into the year with a new coach, a new GM, a new style and a new system. It’s not as much about wins and losses as it is playing the right way, establishing a foundation for success like we had in Boston. I think once you establish that, the results will come.
“I think the defensive effort in Boston was pretty consistent – guys played hard, played unselfishly, played together as a team and I think that’s why we had such success there. Obviously, we’re trying to build a [similar] program here in Phoenix. We want to play up-tempo, push the basketball and score a lot of points, but the defensive effort has to be there. It’ll keep you in a lot of games.”
Hornacek will also play a role in the Suns’ overhaul, and he believes a lot needs to change.
“It’s a learning process for us,” Hornacek said. “They only won 25 games last year. … We have to change a lot of things around here – the culture, the mentality, the practices. If we do that, we should get better.”
The Suns seem to be in good hands with McDonough, especially since he’ll have the necessary draft picks to potentially right the ship in Phoenix. The Suns will have an opportunity to build a very talented young core in the coming years, and McDonough is the right man for that job.
HOOPSWORLD’s adidas Nations Coverage
The 2013 adidas Nations tournament just wrapped up, and HOOPSWORLD was in California to cover the event.
We caught up with all of the notable high school players, college players and NBA players in attendance. Check out all of video interviews here.
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