Everyone knows that Jahlil Okafor is an extremely high priority recruit for the Blue Devils, and his performance this past weekend at the Adidas Nations camp showed why. If you’ve never seen him play before, the big man from Chicago really brings to the table everything you’d want in a low-post, power player. He’s 6’10″-6’11″ and a very solid 270 pounds or so, with round shoulders, thick legs, and a solid backside. But he’s very, very agile as well for a man his size. He is nimble around the rim when the situation calls for it, he runs the floor very well, and he can handle the ball skillfully for a big guy. One big thing I like about him is that he knows he’s an inside power player, and so you don’t see him jacking up 20 footers. He doesn’t want to be Kevin Durant. Defensively, he challenges a lot of shots, he talks well, and he’s just a presence in there. There were a few scouts who said they thought he should be more consistently dominant, that he should take better advantage of his size, that he needs to bring greater energy every time out, but I frankly didn’t see that at all, and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem going forward for Jahlil or for whatever program is lucky enough to welcome him.
The kid has excellent body language too. Both on and off the floor he’s upbeat, positive, and likable. The other guys clearly like playing with him. Jahlil is very personable, he looks you in the eye during conversation — just an excellent young man in all respects.
Here’s what Jahlil had to say this weekend about his experience with USA Basketball this summer, the state of his recruitment, the manner in which Duke is recruiting him, how many people’s perceptions of Coach K are simply wrong, and a number of other topics.
BDN: All right. I’m at the Adidas Nations event with Jahlil Okafor, who just finished up a pretty nice win, I guess you guys would have to say. How has the event been for you so far?
JO: It’s been a lot of fun. I love coming down to Adidas Nations, you know, it’s a lot of fun playing with guys like Jaquan Lyle, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, you know some of these guys it’s my first time playing with them. Kavon Looney and all these guys, so it’s a lot of fun playing against different competition and different styles of play, so I’m really enjoying myself.
BDN: That was one of the questions I was going to ask you. It must be a different kind of experience for you to play with some of these guys that you’ve been playing against all summer in AAU.
JO: Yeah, definitely. I am coming off the USA Basketball thing, so that’s where I played with Justise Winslow before, but I played with Stanley Johnson last year with USA Basketball, but this is my first time playing with him all summer, and it’s my first time ever playing with Kavon Looney. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m really enjoying myself.
BDN: Obviously everybody in the Duke world is watching pretty closely what you’re doing and you and Tyus and everything. It’s easy to lump you two guys together, but it’s probably a little bit unfair because each of you is your own person. What are you thinking in terms of visits? I know you have one planned to Baylor. What about beyond that?
JO: We’ve talked about it. We don’t have any set dates yet. But I’m sure we’ll take a couple more together. [Note: this interview was conducted three days ago. Today Jahlil announced he'll be taking an official visit to Kentucky on September 9]
BDN: You mentioned your experience with Team USA. Tell me a little about what that was like to put USA on the front of your jersey again on your chest.
JO: That was amazing. It’s an experience like no other. This was my third time playing, but with the 19-and-under level I was playing up a few years older, playing with a bunch of college guys. In the past 26 years they only won two gold medals for the 19-and-unders so there was a lot of pressure on us. USA Basketball called upon us and told us it was a really big deal if we win or not. It was an experience like no other to talk to George Raveling, who is a bigtime college coach and he’s big in international basketball, and –
BDN: What about the sense of pride you must have had putting – and I know you’ve done it before – but putting on that red, white and blue jersey?
JO: Definitely. That’s something we talked about. We talked about how the teams before us came down here and lost. We’re walking around with our heads high. If we would’ve lost, it’s not the same. So we definitely had a lot of pride and we didn’t want anybody to beat us.
BDN: What kind of differences were there with the international game versus the American game that you’re used to?
JO: I think I thrive in the international game. Mainly due to being in a set system with Billy Donovan and Shaka Smart and Tony Bennett, so I think that really helped me thrive. And also I had really great players on my team like Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Rasheed Sulaimon. So they weren’t really able to doubleteam me, and I really thrived in international play.
BDN: It’s kind of an interesting stage now of recruitment. The AAU season is done. What do the next couple of months hold for you? What are you going to be doing?
JO: After this I pretty much am going to be winding it down. I may do the Elite 24 –
BDN: All you guys must be tired.
JO: Yeah, I’m exhausted. But I wouldn’t want to mess with these relationships for anything. I love coming here. But after this I’ll get ready for my senior season. I’m looking to commit before my senior season kicks off. I really don’t want to drag it on and just have everybody waiting and just put that stress on myself and my family. So I would like to commit before my season starts.
BDN: It’s funny. Some guys like to kind of extend it as far as they can. Others want to get it over with. You’re in the – kind of make your call and –
JO: Yeah, definitely. If I know where I want to go, I’ll just want to get it out of the way. I don’t want to have everybody waiting and everywhere I go asking me where am I going. I’ll just want to get it over with and enjoy my last year.
BDN: Do you feel like there’s more information about the schools that you’re considering that you still don’t have, or do you feel like you have the information you need, and you just need to make the call?
JO: I think the main thing I have to do is get down on campus. That’s when I can make my call. That’s why I’m really looking forward to my official visits. I get down to campus, get a chance to talk to the players, pick their brains, hang out with them, see how they interact with the coaches. That’s what I’ll learn.
BDN: How much contact are you in with the coaching staff at Duke?
JO: I talk to them four to five times a week. Coach Capel, Coach Wojo, Coach K calls me once a week. I might get a text from him maybe two times a week. You know, when a guy like Coach K calls you to check up on you, it’s got to make yourself feel kind of good.
BDN: Kind of gets your attention?
BDN: You have a good relationship with him?
JO: Yeah, I have a great relationship with Coach K.
BDN: What’s your impression about the kind of guy that he is, the kind of coach that he is?
JO: He’s a great guy. Everybody thinks he’s – a lot of guys have an attitude about Duke. They’re like, “Do you ever talk to Coach K?” And they always say that their impression of Duke is that he’ll just have their assistants talk to them ‘cause he’s so bigtime. But he’s not like that at all. He calls you, he texts you, he recruits you just like anybody else, like any other coach. Coach K is a great guy. A lot of people get the impression that he’s really serious but he’s hilarious. He’s really funny. I love Coach K.
BDN: You know, you’re not the only person that’s told me that. A lot of other guys have said the same thing. He’s a funny guy –
JO: A jokester. (laughs)
BDN: And he makes you know that he actually cares about you as a person.
JO: Definitely. He really makes you feel like he cares about you.
BDN: All right, listen. I know you’ve got places to go. Your knees alright? I see you’re icing your knees?
JO: Yeah, I’m icing just, just because.
BDN: You do that all the time or –
JO: When I can.
BDN: I really appreciate it.
JO: No problem at all.
BDN: And I wish you nothing but the best with your decision.
JO: Thank you. I appreciate it.