“Run your own race.”
-Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Big men sometimes have a reputation for reaching their full potential later than do players at other positions. But at sixteen, Jahlil Okafor may already be the next great American center. The grandson of Nigerian immigrants, the 6’11″ Okafor was born in Arkansas, but he’s been raised in the City of Big Shoulders, Chicago. Recently, in Kaunas, Lithuania, the remarkably efficient center won the MVP at the FIBA U-17 World Championships, averaging 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in just over 19 minutes per contest, while shooting 59.5% from the floor.
This AAU season, he’s formed a potent duo for the Mac Irvin Fire with 6’8″ Jabari Parker, a Duke recruit who was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Okafor is scheduled to compete with the Chicago-based AAU program in the Nike Peach Jam next week in North Augusta, SC. During Nike’s EYBL season, Okafor, a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American and an All-City player at Whitney Young HS, averaged nearly twelve points and six rebounds, while shooting a blistering 69.2%, second highest of any player overall.
On Tuesday, USA Basketball flew the gold medal-winning U-17 team to Las Vegas to meet with this year’s United
States Men’s National Team, which was training for the upcoming Olympics in London, England. Jahlil, an amiable and bright young man who is blessed with an infectious smile and a baritone voice, was able to watch the Olympic squad practice under Coach Mike Krzyzewski and scrimmage against the USA Select team, featuring Kyrie Irving. A rising junior in high school, Okafor took pictures with the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, LeBron James, and the NBA’s scoring leader, Kevin Durant, while watching his favorite Olympic team member, Kobe Bryant.
At the practice, Jahlil, the first player that Coach K offered a Duke scholarship to in the class of 2014, graciously offered to let me hold his newly-minted gold medal and then spoke with me about a variety of topics, including a USA Basketball teammate that he’s decided to play with in college.
What was the team experience like for you with USA Basketball? Obviously, you must’ve dominated them, in order to get the MVP. The word is that they may not let you back in Europe.
(laughs) It was amazing. You remember we started the process almost two years ago, in October 2010. Around that time, the goal was to win a gold medal. It’s been a two-year process. To go down there and win, with everybody playing the way they did and, you know, everybody getting along, it was just a perfect experience.
This was a tight unit.
Yes, very tight. We’re all brothers. We all love each other. We all get along very well. We won every game by forty or more.
I know. The stats kept coming back and it just looked like a misprint or video game numbers.
Exactly, what we were able to do on the court was almost ridiculous. We all got along so well too. Now, when I’ll be away from these guys, I almost don’t know what I’ll do without them. It was amazing.
Now, you’re seeing Team USA right here. They flew you out to Vegas and we’re in the same gym as some of the greatest players who’ve ever stepped on a court.
(laughs) Yeah, it’s just ridiculous. We were just in a small room with LeBron, Melo, KD, Kobe, Blake Griffin, CP3, Deron Williams, you know, all of those guys.
It’s a little mind blowing.
Yeah, it definitely is. It’s incredible to watch them talk to each other and watch them talk with Coach K and watch them talk over the game plan. We were just on the side watching, but, yeah, like you said, it was mind blowing.
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