Tag Archives: Jahlil Okafor

Checking In With Marcus Lee

6’9″ Marcus Lee, Photo by Andrew Slater

 

There are certain moments in life where, based upon your actions, your life changes. For 6’9″ Marcus Lee of Antioch, California, his performances with his California Supreme team at the EYBL in Minnesota potentially changed the course of his life. After the event, scholarship offers flooded in from programs across the country.  His brother, Bryan, a former basketball standout at Grand Canyon University, and a recruiter for Google, has been the primary filter for Marcus’s calls. One of the schools that immediately contacted Marcus following the EYBL event was Duke University.

Seven weeks later, Marcus is now scheduled to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia to participate in the NBPA Top 100 Camp. As the sixth-leading shot-blocker in the EYBL, Lee was instrumental in forging California Supreme’s 16-4 record, which helped the team qualify for next month’s Peach Jam in South Carolina.

Duke Recruit Marcus Lee, Photo by Andrew SlaterRecently, I spoke with Marcus about, among other things, that life-changing weekend in Minnesota, about speaking with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, as well as Bryan’s reaction to the newfound interest in his younger brother.

 

 

 

 

What was your initial reaction when offers started coming in from all around the country?

I was pretty surprised. I thought I was just sort of settling in and then…

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Did it change your life, to a degree?

Yeah, it did. Yeah, it changed everything. It changed it to the point where after school I was having a lot of phone calls coming in and I just don’t have any more free time. (laughs)

 Do you like it?

Yeah, I love it! I mean I sometimes get headaches, but it’s all worth it. It’s been great.

 

What are you trying to gain or learn from your visits?

How they do stuff around each campus..I really want to talk to people. I feel that I’ve got a lot of questions for people. 

 

What does your brother think about all of this fuss? I remember that he was, in some ways, your guiding light.

Yeah, yeah, he’s just trying to keep everything away from me… so far. 

Does he handle everything, for the most part?

Yeah, he handles pretty much everything. He tries to be supportive.

 

What was it like in the match-up with Jahlil Okafor? He’s another recruit that I’ve spoken to a lot.

I thought it was great. He’s really one of the toughest kids I’ve gone against. He’s a really big kid, very fundamentally sound. It was a lot of fun.

 

One of the schools that has shown interest in you so far is UCLA. What do you know about them?

I want to find out more about them. I know a little bit about them because they’re roughly in my area. I think I’d like to take a look around. I mean, I’ve always had a good relationship with them. 

 

When they offered you, was it pretty exciting?

My brother called me and he said that they’re going to call you to probably offer you and then I got a call and it was just amazing.

 

You’re sort of known for your shot-blocking. Out of curiosity, who are the hardest guys for you to try to defend?

 Probably one of the bigger or, like, stronger types. Like guarding all these top big men in the EYBL is like, man, I mean, they get the ball, and I get pounded. I try to block their shots and defend them, but a lot of them are tough.

 

Can you talk a little bit about San Diego State? (other reporter)

San Diego State is always in my ear. They’re always really, like, a nice program. I just would like to learn more about them, but they’re really nice though.

 

Do you think it would be hard to leave the West Coast?

I’m not sure. I don’t think so. 

Have you thought about starting to pare it down?

I think about it a little bit, but I really feel that I should just stay open right now. So far, I have no idea what I’d like to narrow it down to..maybe a little later I will.

 

How do you feel you and your team are playing right now? Do you feel, in some ways, that this is, for lack of a better phrase, the best Marcus Lee that we have seen?

Yeah, this is probably the best Marcus. (laughs)

 Sorry to force you into the third person. I didn’t want you to become a diva wide receiver or a boxer just yet..

(laughs) Yeah, in terms of the team, I think we try to separate ourselves by being a very family-like setting. Other teams, they seem to want to compete against themselves and other teams. We try to help each other out..that’s our whole goal in this.

That’s unusual.

Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you noticed that.

 

How is it playing in front of your family? Is it a different dynamic?

 It’s probably the hardest thing. 

 Oh, really, it’s actually harder?

 Oh, yeah, much, much harder. I feel like I have to meet much higher expectations when they’re here. 

 I remember that you mentioned during a prior interview with me that your brother was your role model in basketball, not necessarily a current pro or college basketball player. I know that he was a Division II All-American. 

 Yeah, when he came into college, he was more of a scorer. He tried to focus on that.

 Was he generally a different type of player than you?

 Yeah, he’s exactly the same. He would always try to do the little things to help the team win, things that might not show up in a box score. He got a lot of joy out of basketball. 

 Well, you seem to get a lot of joy out of playing basketball and life. What would you say is your favorite part about playing basketball? It seems like you like to run and block shots.

 Yeah, I love to block shots. They get so happy thinking that they’re going to lay it in and I come by and just… swat! I just love doing the little things. I love winning and just being part of a team.

When I was talking to Jahlil, he was amazed at your speed. He had never seen you play before. He was amazed at your speed going up and down the court for a fellow big guy. That was his take on you. What was it like when you received the Duke offer? What was your reaction?

Well, my brother put Coach K’s number in my phone. I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, but then I got out of school and I was going through my phone and I saw Coach K’s number coming up and I was, like, whoa, and then I was just sitting there and there was just a voicemail from Coach K and I, like, had to call him right back.

What did he say when you finally spoke to him? 

Oh, he was extremely excited. He had a whole bunch of enthusiasm in his voice. 

For those in the audience who haven’t gone through that experience, what did he say?

He was just, like, well, he told me that I was, like, an amazing player. He was just, like, he wanted to, like, work me out and get me better.

 

What did he appreciate about you most?

He liked that I was so happy out there on the court and my energy.

They like high energy guys.

Yeah, I think that’s what they liked about me most.

Thanks a lot, Marcus.

Oh, sure thing, man.

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Center of Attention: A Jahlil Okafor Update

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

Hailed as the best big man from Chicagoland since Eddy Curry, 6’11” Jahlil Okafor, the Brobdingnagian sophomore center from Whitney Young, has lived up to the high expectations. Last September, Jahlil was the first player that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a scholarship to in the 2014 class. It was a particularly early offer from a program that historically has been conservative in both the sheer number and timing of its offers, but clearly the staff felt that Okafor was an exceptional person and player. Jahlil was coming off of a summer where he played a critical role, shooting a remarkably efficient 71.1% from the field and 82.6% from the charity stripe, in leading the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Cancun, Mexico.

 

At Whitney Young, the Chicago academic magnet school that includes Michelle Obama as an alumna, Jahlil, a 3.4 GPA student, took on much more of a substantial role this season, while the team travelled all over the country playing challenging contests in California, the Carolinas, and St. Louis against nationally ranked teams like Bishop Gorman and Gonzaga as well as Chicago powers Simeon and Curie. After starting three games on a 20-10 team as a freshman for the Dolphins of Whitney Young, Okafor stepped up his game and made second-team All-State as a sophomore and MaxPreps named him to their Sophomore All-American team. Blessed with a 7’3″ wingspan, Jahlil averaged nearly thirteen rebounds, twenty-five points, five blocks, and four steals, while shooting nearly seventy percent from the field this high school season.

 

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

In early December, Jahlil, a pure low-post player who isn’t afraid to bang inside, visited the Triangle and took an unofficial visit to Duke University, touring the facilities and also watching the team practice. Twice this high school season, Coach K of Duke University returned the favor, coming to watch the sophomore big man play in person. In the initial viewing at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Coach K observed Jahlil score ten points and grab a dozen rebounds in a 46-44 buzzer-beating win over Prestonwood (TX) and 6’9″ force Julius Randle, one of the top players in the 2013 class and a Duke recruit. At the second viewing, Coach K watched Jahlil battle his Mac Irvin friend and fellow Duke recruit Jabari Parker, the Gatorade Player of the Year, in the state 4A Sectionals in Summit, Illinois. Although Jahlil had nine first-half points and helped the Dolphins take a 24-21 halftime lead, eventually the depth and experience of Simeon proved too much on that day, as the eventual state champion Wolverines won 52-42 ending Whitney Young’s season with a record of 16-10 against one of this year’s most challenging schedules in high school basketball.

 

After splitting his time between the Mac Irvin 17s and 16s last summer, the sociable center is anchoring the paint for the Mac Irvin Fire 17U team full-time this AAU season. This weekend in Dallas, the sophomore Okafor stepped up and had his best AAU weekend to date, leading the Fire to a 5-0 session and averaging over sixteen points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in twenty-one minutes at the third leg of Nike’s EYBL. This EYBL season, Jahlil, now 16, has been Mac Irvin’s leading overall scorer (165 points in 260 minutes) and has shot an eye-catching 71.7% from the field, helping the Fire to eleven wins in fourteen games. During the early live period, the Duke staff was a constant presence at his Mac Irvin games, including a memorable one at the Boo Williams Complex in Virginia, where the 275 lb strong young man tore down the rim.

 

After an EYBL game, the bass-voiced Jahlil spoke with me about Mac Irvin’s passing, his goals for this summer, and his relationship with Jabari Parker, amongst other topics.

Well, first of all congratulations on making all-state as a sophomore in Illinois. 

 It was an honor. It’s something I talked about setting as a goal with my Dad. It was great. 

 

This year you made much more of an impact on the team than you did as a freshman. You had a really competitive schedule. How do you view your season overall?

 Well, we had a couple of our key guys injured early in the season…

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton.

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton was hurt and Paul White as well. It put a lot of pressure on me and made me grow up a lot faster.

 

Speaking of that, it looks like you’ve lost some of your body fat. Have you been working a lot on your conditioning this year? I remember that it was something that you wanted to work on the last time I spoke with you.

Yeah, I was speaking with all of my coaches and the thing that they thought that would prevent me from getting to the highest level would be me being out of shape. I wanted to focus on that.

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You guys played a very tough schedule this year, traveling around the country at various showcases and tournaments. How does it help you now and into the future?

It helps. It just helps to play against other top players in the country, you know, and other top high schools. It was just a great experience. 

And you get to experience different places.

Yeah, yeah, definitely 

 

What’s your current size?

I’m like 6’11,” 275.

 

Let’s talk about visits. What about some of the visits you’ve taken?

Sure, I went to Nebraska recently. I’ve been up to Ohio State. I visited Duke. I went to North Carolina and Arizona as well. They’re all great campuses. 

Can you talk a little bit about each of them?

 Yeah, Duke speaks for itself. Meeting Coach K. it was just beautiful. It was great to talk to Coach K and look at their facilities. And North Carolina had a great team.

 Did you get to see any games in person this season?

When I went to Arizona, I went to a football game. I had a fun time there and the weather is always nice.

 

What were you looking for on those visits?

I’m looking to see how happy the players are on campus, how the players and coaches respond to each other, and then other students and how they interact with the team.

I remember that you said that you went to Whitney Young, not because of the basketball, but because it had the reputation for being the best school in Chicago. 

Yeah, absolutely, that’s right. 

 

You’re originally from Arkansas, can you talk a little bit about your background?

Yeah, I’m originally from Arkansas, but I moved to Chicago in the fourth grade.

I know you also have a Nigerian heritage. Was your father born in Nigeria or your grandfather?

No, my grandpa was born in Nigeria, but my father was actually born in Chicago.

 

In terms of roles, what was your role for Whitney Young and what do you feel your role is for this team? 

With Whitney Young, pretty much I had to do everything this year. I had to rebound, score inside, and block shots. On this team, I pretty much have one role: to be a dominant low-post man and rebound. I have a bunch of help on this team.

I was looking through my notes and saw that you wore your dad’s number. 

Oh, yeah, I wore #32, I didn’t even know it was my dad’s number, but, then, I wore #15 for my Olympic jersey, but I knew that was his number.

 

In terms of your recruiting timeline, how far along do you think you are? When do you think you’ll decide on a school?

I probably won’t decide on a school ’til my senior year.

 

Since you mentioned Tommy Hamilton before, what’s it like to play with him now that he’s healthy? Have you ever played with his father (7’2″ Thomas Hamilton)? He used to be a good player and a massive guy.

No, I’ve actually never met his father in my life, but Tommy and I complement each other perfectly well out there on the court. I like playing with him. 

 

Just out of curiosity, do you have a rivalry with Cliff Alexander (a 6’10” fellow sophomore from Curie HS in Chicago)? They seem to talk up on in the Chicago papers from time to time. He’s about your size and age.

Yeah, Cliff’s a really great friend. And I have a rivalry with Jabari and Cliff, but we’re all great friends.

 

Can you talk about that last playoff game against Simeon? It was your second time seeing those guys (lost in December at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion) and you lead at the half. For your sake, I was sorry.

Oh, yeah, that was a heartbreaker against Simeon. I walked away feeling like we should’ve won that game. There were a couple of plays here and there, but we’re really excited about the team that we’ll bring back next year.

You’ve got a good shot next year.

Yeah, I think so too.

 

(Interrupted by 6’10” sophomore Dakari Johnson)

Now, he’s a rival.

Yeah, Dakari’s a rival (laughs)

 

This year, you’ll be playing against seventeens exclusively. What did you gain last year from facing players that were two age groups up in the EYBL?

Yeah, everybody’s got better ball skills at the seventeen level. They’re more developed physically. It’s a challenge, game in and game out in the EYBL. 

I spoke with you after you played in your first game and you had just faced Elijah Macon, who was shorter than you, but built like a bull. You said he was the toughest guy that you had guarded at that time.

Oh, yeah, I remember.

 

One of the unique things about your game is that you’re a back-to-the-basket player in an age where there are a lot of big guys that want to face up or play away from the basket.

Yeah, it’s just something that I’m real comfortable with. I’ve been doing it since I’ve been in seventh or eight grade. It’s helped and now I have a lot of confidence with my back to the basket.

 

I know that you read some of your articles. What goes through your head when you see some local scouts saying that you’re the best Chicagoland center or big man since Eddy Curry?

Oh, yeah, I’ve read that, but..

You just go about your business.

Yeah, I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything yet. I’m hungry.

Well, that’s a good attitude. You’ve got those big, “soft” hands. How much of an advantage does that give you over your fellow bigs? Also, how do you account for having soft hands?

(Mac Irvin teammate throws a fake mouse)

Sorry about that. Yeah, everybody always talks about having great hands. I think it’s a pretty big  advantage. Well, at least, mentally, you know, knowing that you have them.

 

One dimension that you’ve worked on this year is your face-up game..

Yeah, my coaches are always telling that I’ve got to continue to perfect my low-post game, but I’ve also got to extend my range and expand my game.

I remember that was you wanted to add a jumper and be able to finish around the basket with either hand at the end of last summer.

Yeah, exactly, both of those things.

 

One things that helps you differentiate yourself from some of the softer big men is that you don’t mind contact at all.

Yeah, no, absolutely, it’s something that I actually enjoy. I love to get in there and mix it up. I love to be aggressive. 

And then you can knock down your free throws to help your team too.

Absolutely, you’ve got to take advantage of those free throw shots. You can win or lose sometimes by just a few shots, here and there.

 

You guys lost Mac Irvin over the offseason. He was obviously a major figure in Chicago basketball over the past few decades. He was always nice to me, but can you tell the audience your thoughts on Mac Irvin’s passing?

It was sad. You know this year we’re going to try to put our egos aside and just try to win the Peach Jam for him and in his memory. He was a very nice man.

 

Speaking of your Mac Irvin team, what’s your relationship like right now with Jabari (Parker)?

Oh, you know Jabari is just someone that I’ve known since seventh grade and he’s just somebody that I can always talk to.

He’s, sort of, going through some of the same things that you are, but just a year ahead.

Yeah, exactly, we’re experiencing a lot of the same things with the college coaches and the fans and everybody coming at you, but it’s just nice to have Jabari.

 

The next one I was going to ask you about, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t confirm if it was true. Someone said that before you visited there, that Coach K said something to the effect that you could’ve started or played for him this year. Did he actually say that to you or this just an urban legend?

Oh, wow, no, I didn’t hear that. If he said that, then it’s really humbling to hear, but I don’t believe that. I couldn’t have. It’s still good to hear.

You mentioned about five schools before that you had visited. Have you cut down or reduced your list at all?

No, I haven’t reduced my list just yet.

Who are some of the schools that you’re interested in?

Pretty much everybody. I’m hearing from Ohio State. I’m hearing from Duke. Who else? Illinois, Michigan State, DePaul, Arizona, and UConn.

 

In the Chicago papers, they’ve written a lot about that Illinois job and the hiring process. As I recall, you were a Sun-Times guy, but did you pay any attention to the various articles about potential coaches or Coach Groce?

I did a little bit. I spoke with the Illinois coach soon after he got the job.

Well, I’m sure that you’re a major target. He ought to be after you.

Yeah, well (laughs)

 

Lastly, let’s just close by talking about what you hope to accomplish this summer. 

Sure, well, first, I’d like to win a championship for Mac Irvin. That’s my top goal. Then, personally, I’d like to play hard for the majority of each game and keep my conditioning up. I’ve been trying to work on my conditioning and, hopefully, it can pay off.

 

I remember last year around this time you were focused on winning the gold medal. That was what you were targeting.

Yeah, well, we won the gold medal.

I was proud of you.

Thanks.

I saw that picture that you put up of you, Coach (Mike) Jones, and Tyus (Jones) in Mexico.

(laughs) Yeah, well, that was a great experience. Now, I just hope that I can make the team again.

Thanks for your time, Jahlil.

Oh, sure, no problem.

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The Last Honest Man In The Gym: Tom Konchalski

Tom Konchalski of the HSBI Report, Photo by Kevin Armstrong

Tom Konchalski has been evaluating high school basketball players for nearly forty years. In a business filled with fly-by-night operations, charlatans, non-athletes, and simpletons, he’s the exception. Mr. Konchalski is a disciplined, compassionate, learned man of faith who keeps his eyes open and his ears to the ground.

In an age of social media, where a seventeen year-old with a Twitter account can call himself a recruiting analyst, the 6’5″ Queens native still utilizes a typewriter for his HSBI Report and sends it via mail to more than two hundred college programs. Author John Feinstein ’78 once wrote of the veteran scout that he was the “only honest man in the gym.”  Unfortunately, it’s a fairly apt description of the AAU circuit on many summer nights.

Recently, I spoke with my mentor, consigliere, and friend about twelve players who have, at least, received interest from Duke  in the classes of 2012, 2013, and 2014. Never prone to hyperbole, the McDonald’s All-American voter graciously gave his candid assessments.

 

 

 

6'4" Rasheed Sulaimon, Photo by Andrew Slater

Rasheed Sulaimon: “He’s a very good player. He’s athletic and has good size. He has skill. He plays a team game and lets the game normally come to him. He’s a guy who I think is going to be a good team player at Duke.[private] I think he’ll be a good system player at Duke and Duke’s system fits him quite well. He should become a very good player for them and I don’t think he’s going to be a player who will be a one or a two years and done for them. He’s going to be around for three or four years. You need those kind of players because those are the types of players that Duke has had most success with. Defensively, he has the body, the strength, and the quickness to be a very good defensive player.”

 

 

 

6'8" Amile Jefferson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Amile Jefferson: “He’s a young colt who’s waiting for his body to blossom, but he has a really good feel for the game. Right now, he’s probably more of a 4/3 and, obviously, he’s going to have get stronger, but, in the ACC, it’s not as if he’s going to the Big Ten or the Big East, which is even more of a physical conference. In terms of style of play, if he were to go to Duke, that would be a good pick, but he’s still got to get stronger in order to be able to play both sides of the court. He’s a guy who has some perimeter skills..not an explosive athlete, but, when he starts to working to improve himself physically, his legs will get stronger. He will get quicker and he’ll get more lift off the ground. He’s a guy who has a good feel for the lane and the baseline. He’s almost like an old-time player around the lane. He knows how to finish without going above the rim or jumping over people. He knows how to use his body to get between the defender and the ball. He knows how to shield the ball and reverse it. He has a really good feel for the game and he’s a really good kid. He’s also a good student.”

 

6'6" Shabazz Muhammad, Photo by Andrew Slater

Shabazz Muhammad: “Shabazz Muhammad is a guy who may be the best senior in the country right now. I don’t think he has the potential to be a superstar. I think there are other people who may have a  higher ceiling, such as guys like Jabari Parker, Nerlens Noel, and Julius Randle. Right now, he just plays so hard. He’s high energy, but he has some holes in his game. For example, he never beats you going right. When Mater Dei, for example, beat them in the fifth place game at the City of Palms, Stanley Johnson did a really good job of defending him because he overplayed him to his left. He ended up with thirty anyhow, but most of those came in the second half after they were already down twenty. He’s an extraterrestrial athlete and he has great work habits on the floor. He gives you great second effort. He’s left-handed, which is an advantage. He can hit some threes off of the catch. He’s got to work at getting the ball on the floor and being able to change direction. He’s got to build up his right hand, but he’s a terrific athlete. He’s a guy that when he goes to college, I don’t know if he’s going to be ready to go to the NBA after one year because he does have these areas of his game that he needs to develop. He’s a guy that you’d love to coach. He’s a classic coaches’ player because he plays so hard, especially for a guy like Coach Krzyzewski that sees in him the kind of effort that he was used to as a player and a coach for Army and in his earlier, lesser talented teams at Duke, where they just showed so much toughness and great effort. I think that was the attraction there.”

 

6'8" Tony Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

Tony Parker: “Tony Parker is a good player. He’s a really good kid. He has good hands. He has good skills. The key thing for him is conditioning. He’s lost some weight and he’s got to lose some more weight. He’s actually in better shape now than he was over the summer, but he’s got to lose even more weight and improve his conditioning. I don’t think he’ll ever be a star, but I think he’ll be a very good, solid player and kid who’s a good student and I think he probably sees himself as staying around a while and not leaving. He’s a four or a five, depending on where he ends up. He can step out and hit a mid-range shot, but he’s never going to be a perimeter scorer. God didn’t give him that body to shoot jump-shots and play on the perimeter. That body has got to be used inside. What he’s got to do is sculpt that body, change his body somewhat, and ultimately use it as a weapon.”

 

6'8" Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

Jabari Parker: “Now, he’s a guy, who, since the end of his sophomore season, really did change his body type. He shed a lot of that baby fat. He’s gotten quicker. He got a lot more lift off of the ground and he’s also improved his perimeter skills. He’s become a pretty good three-point shooter. The one thing that I haven’t seen with him… and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him this summer.. is that I’m not sure if he has the disposition to dominate a game, although, maybe… when he was younger, he was looking to simply defer to his upperclassmen. He’s got to become a little bit more assertive. In big games, he’s got to learn to take over games, which I think is a learning process for him. That said, if you want to talk about guy that has athleticism, a good feel for the game, plays the game the right way, and has a really good skill set for his size, he certainly is one of the best players in the country, regardless of class. When I saw him at the Peach Jam, for example, he showed certain things, but I think a lot of it has to do with his personality. He wants to defer to the older players somewhat. He doesn’t want to try to take over completely. He hasn’t become a prolific scorer in the Chicago Public League just yet, but there are a lot of weapons on his Simeon team so I don’t think you’re going to see him average twenty-five or thirty points. He does, however, need to come up big for them in their biggest games. With his size, athleticism, and skill set, he’s got to be even more of a factor for them. Right now, I don’t know that he quite realizes how good he is and can be. Everybody says that he’s a very humble, grounded kid, but he may not realize just how good he is.”

 

6'9" Julius Randle, Photo by Andrew Slater

Julius Randle: “I’ll tell you what… he was spectacular down at the City of Palms. Against Riverside (Riverside Academy of Louisiana), I thought he was bothered by the size and I thought he tried to initiate too much of his offense, after he was bothered by the size of Riverside in the first half. In the second half, I think he played too much on the perimeter to try to counter them. Now, here is a guy that has a Wayman Tisdale body, he’s left-handed, and he can shoot the ball. He’s actually strong with his dribble. He can take the dribble through traffic. He has a tremendously high ceiling. He could be a great, great player. I really like him.”

 

 

 

 

6'8" BeeJay Anya, Photo by Andrew Slater

BeeJay Anya: “BeeJay Anya, as Coach Jones mentioned, is in so much better shape. He said that when he got cut from the USA basketball team that it really was a wakeup call to him. He took it to heart and became dedicated to improving himself physically. He trimmed down, lost weight, improved his conditioning, and just got in better overall shape. Right now, he’s so much more active. He runs the floor more consistently. He can stay in the game for longer stretches. He has more range rebounding-wise. Before, his rebounding range was his arm length, which is considerable  (astonishing 7’9″ wingspan), but now he can really go out of his area and grab some rebounds for his team. His offense has gotten better too, but I think he’s just so strong. As you know, he’s retained his strength and he knows how to use his body and you saw the difference. He’s a man-child. He improves and he keeps on working. The thing that you notice about the DeMatha kids, you know, Morgan Wooten isn’t the coach there, but one of his disciples is and they’ve retained the same work ethic. Also, it’s the same character that you’re finding with their kids. They have good kids. They have talented players, but, if they’re not good kids, they’re going to get them out of there.

 

6'5" Theo Pinson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Theo Pinson: “Long, 6’5″ to 6’6,” he played with CP3. He’s very thin, but a skilled player. He’s a young guy, who was 6’5″ to 6’6,” who can handle the ball and shoot the ball with range. He looks like a fine prospect, but I want to see more of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

Jahlil Okafor: “He’s a big, strong post player inside. Because Thomas Hamilton tore his meniscus, there was more responsibility put on him. He’s a terrific kid, very friendly, very smart. That’s a good school. That’s probably the best public high school in the Chicago system academically. He’s a big, strong kid inside who doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He doesn’t try to be a perimeter wannabe. He recognizes and utilizes his strengths. That’s a valuable thing. He’s not a 6’10” kid who wants to go outside, loft up threes, and show that he can dribble the ball or change direction with the ball. He knows what he is. He’s a power player inside. Ben Franklin said that there are three things hard in life: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self. I guess he’s read Ben Franklin.”

 

6'5" Wayne Selden, Photo by Andrew Slater

Wayne Selden: “First of all, when you look at him, he has a man’s body. He’s a sophomore, but he should be a junior. So, he’s a reclassified kid. When he goes to college, there’s not going to be any physical adjustment that he’s going to have to make when he gets there, which is an advantage. Even when you look at the guys who go from college basketball to the pros, the guys who give you the most instant impact are those that have already prepared their bodies for the next level. The two kids who went straight from high school to the pros who had the most instant impact and who wound up earning Rookie of the Year in their respective years, 2003 and 2004, were Stoudamire and LeBron James. They entered the league with NBA bodies. Well, he’s got a college body, right now. He’s a strong, tough physical kid, who’s also very nice kid. His skill level has really improved. When I first saw him, which was the summer before his freshman year, he was more like a 6’4″ power forward, but he has been able to develop his game and learned how to handle the ball, while keeping that physical mentality. They let him bring the ball up the court and sometimes play a little point guard, but he doesn’t see the court like a point guard and he’s certainly not a point guard. He can, however, handle the ball, get to the basket, and shoot threes. In terms of his shot selection, he can sometimes put up poor shots, but, overall, that’s improved as well. He’s a guy who has great physical ability and he’s a guy who has elevated his skill level. The next thing is for him to further understand the game, but he’ll probably end up as a big two guard or a big combination guard. Once again, he’s a very nice kid. He’s also a terrific prospect.”

 

6'6" Stanley Johnson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Stanley Johnson: ” He’s a good basketball player, but a terrific teammate. He plays in a program where there’s a lot of players and there’s a system. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a star, but he knows how to play the game and he plays both ends of the floor. He’s their designated defender and he can defend multiple positions. He’s the guy who defend Shabazz Muhammad very well in the City of Palms and he defended Isaiah Austin, I believe, for several stretches in their prior game against Grace Prep. He’s a strong, physical kid, who’s about 6’6,” who’s not a great athlete, but he knows how to use his strength and his shot discipline is very impressive. He takes shots that he knows he can hit. He’ll take an occasional three. He’s not going to create off of the dribble or anything like that, but he’s also not going to try to. He generally lets the game come to him. He’s a very good team player and system player. They play a lot of people. They’re like the Noah’s Ark of basketball programs. They’ve got two of everything, (laughs) but he stays on the floor most of the time because he offers them a lot on both ends. He can handle the ball, defend the opposition’s best player, and just really seems like a good teammate and a terrific kid.”

 

6'8" Noah Vonleh, Photo by Andrew Slater

Noah Vonleh: “He’s a big, 6’8″ kid with good skill. He can guard pretty well and he’s also a versatile defender. He gets down in his stance pretty well. I think he wants to be a perimeter player. I think he needs to use his strength and size a little more than he tens to do right now. He seems very coachable. He’s very athletic and has a good body. He has good skill for his size. Right now, he’s not a small forward and I think he’s got to realize that. His game has probably got to start a little more inside. He’s got to get a little more developed. He’s a guy that eventually with his size and, if he can develop his skill set, might become a three, but he’s got to develop his game. He’s another kid who should be a junior, but he’d, at least, be a young junior. He’ll graduate at eighteen, whereas, before he would’ve graduated at seventeen. He’s certainly one of the best players in that class.”

 

Overall thoughts on the 2013 class: “Well, before, there were those three big three and there were the Harrison twins who are very close behind. Those twins will be very good. You like Andrew (Harrison) more, which is appropriate and fits in with today’s Gospel (laughs). I think those three have more upside than anyone that was in this class. The seniors in this class…I’m just, well, I think that Shabazz and Kyle Anderson were probably the two best seniors in this class. They’re very good players. Kyle, from the neck on up, is the best high school player in his class, but, from the neck on down, he just is not. Those three, however, can be really stars at the college level and they can be stars at the pro level. They have so much physical ability and they have skill.”

 

On whether Jabari Parker and Julius Randle could play together: “Jabari can play with him. Randle is a four/five, with, for example, more perimeter skill than Nerlens. They could be interchangeable. The thing that I don’t know is that, with the transcendent talents that they are, I don’t know if any of them would want to share the spotlight, with the way kids think right now. That said, if two of them went to the same college and stayed for more than one year, that’s a national championship team. If they stay together for one year, that still may be a national championship caliber team. Who knows?”

 

Best long-term potential of Parker, Randle, and Noel: “I couldn’t say. I’ve seen Julius and Nerlens play four times this high school season and I just haven’t seen Jabari play as often, but let’s just say that they all have Brobdingnagian potential. The sky is the limit for each of them. They can be as good as they want to be. They can each be truly impact players not only at the next level, but on the level beyond that.”[/private]

Key Duke prospect Jabari Parker - BDN Premium 1271 word recruting update posted.

Duke Basketball Recruiting Update – Coaches are working the trail hard this month

Key Duke prospect Jabari Parker - BDN Premium 1271 word recruting update posted.

The Holiday season is upon us and that means Duke Basketball plays just a couple of December games, but make no mistake, it is still a busy time.  The Duke Men’s Basketball staff will put in their frequent flyer miles and burn a little rubber as they hit the recruiting trail and BDN Premium brings you an update on the latest news.

Coach Krzyzewski and assistant coach Jeff Capel will be in Dallas, Texas today to watch Julius Randle, the nations #2 ranked player in the class of 2012.  Duke will also see (1271 word update ahead for BDN Premium members) [private] Matt Jones, the shooting guard who just pledged to the Blue Devils.  There is no mistaking the fact that Duke hopes Jones will help recruit the banging horse, Randle.  And Rasheed Sulaimon may help there as well.  As I have said in past updates, the Blue Devils covet Randle and think they can get him and Jabari Parker and that would be just magical for the fan base.

Speaking of Jabari Parker, the top rated player in his class that is now being compared to Kobe Bryant by some, the staff will watch him in Fayetteville this weekend.  I have long maintained that I feel Duke is in incredibly good shape here and that they were in on Parker very early and have developed great relationships with the family.  Duke will also take in the Beach Ball Classis in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where they’ll see him again at the end of this month.  Parker will have his parents in tow this weekend and probably Myrtle Beach as well.

And speaking of the the Beach Ball Classic, one of two top recruits left for this season at this time, Tony Parker will be there.  Duke continues to get good vibes from his camp, especially his parents who I have said for a long time now favor Duke.  Parker is a stressful prospect for Duke fans in that the Blue Devils really need him and or have a place for him.  I was the first to tell you that the December date was sketchy and that you cannot really go on what Parker says he’ll do.  And that means the old line, don’t listen to what he says, but watch what he does.  Parker is enjoying the process, a bit too much for most Duke fans taste for it makes little sense he would choose any situation but Duke for numerous reasons.  Of course, they have on royal blue glasses as well but even the objective observer sees the best spot for him is in Durham.  I still think he will end upo taking this until summer – late summer, so try and keep your composure and not go bad mouthing him in forums which could possibly damage the teams efforts.

Tyus Jones is a mature PG and leader - BDN Photo

We cannot leave out the top rated player in this seasons class, Shabazz Muhammad who will also be in Myrtle Beach.  UCLA, once considered a strong leader is now third in my opinion and as I said a bit back, it will come down to Duke and Kentucky.  His decision could hinge on Austin Rivers decision to go pro or stay at Duke, so this one as I have said all along will go to the podium the last day or so of the signing period in late summer.  And it doesn’t hurt to dream and think that both Parker and Bazz might choose Duke taking all of the build up stress away and making us all five years younger in the process.  Muhammad could really flourish in the Duke system where I feel he would be more of a go-to guy than he would be at Kentucky.

Another Chicago are kid has caught the Blue Devils eye as well.  Jalhill Okafor is a bruising type in the class of 2014 and stands 6-10 and weighs in at 280.  Duke has mad in roads with him and they’ll see him this weekend along with Jabari Parker.  I am looking forward to reporting on his game as I focus in on him solely  for the first time.  He plays AAU ball for the Mac Irwin Fire and they at times have so many good players, that it is hard to focus in on one early in the circuit season.

Two players that will play at the former Glaxo event in Raleigh will be Rasheed Sulaimon, already signed with Duke and young Theo Pinson.  Sulaimon will thrill the crowd for sure with his water bug like movement.  He glides around the court with high energy and his on ball defense is much improved, making me think he can be a stopper at Duke.  Our diary session kind of imploded due to his schedule, but he has said he will pick it up soon.  Pinson is another 2014 kid that liked Duke growing up.  He is an interesting wing that still seems to be growing at 6-5 and will likely be a small forward type in college, but he has good guard skills as well and like all Duke prospects, he has great character.  Okay, I know what you are thinking about that statement, but be nice as I said up top, LOL.

Juilus Randle is a true banger in the paint.

The City of Palms, Texas, Vegas …. the Blue Devils staff will be seeing a lot of kids this month.  Some of those will be individual visits to the likes of Tyus Jones and Austin Nichols.  The Blue Devils fell in love with Jones last year and I had already been there in that he always stood out to me.  During my last interview with Jones, I came away very impressed at his grounded maturity which is far ahead of his years.  And that kind of maturity is what you seek in a point guard.  Duke will be on this kid hard as will everybody else int he nation, but early returns are that he likes Coach K and Duke a lot.  Austin Nichols is a 6-8 slender forward approaching 200 pounds that the Devils staff will check out individually.  A lot of SEC schools are on the Tennessee native and a few from the Big East along with Butler.  Nichols caught the Blue Devils eye but it is early on this one, so we’ll call it an on going evaluation.

On the team front, Coach K is very pleased with the 9-1 start to the season and the staff will take measures to try an assure there is no burnout from the added stress of the China trip.  There are a few nagging injuries (nothing major) but I only speak of them when announced and the team rarely does this.  The staff will be watching a lot of film, so expect a few new wrinkles as the new year moves in.  As I said, the plan is to redshirt Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee and this will be a good thing down the road for these will be seasoned and mature freshman.  And yes, I played a bit of a game in mentioning lineup changes the other week and many got a chuckle out of other sites running with it in public.  It pays to know Duke Basketball, wink-wink and to be a member of Blue Devil Nation Premium.  Thanks for being a member guys and let’s go Duke!

Talk about this article on the Blue Devil Nation Premium Message Board, a part of your membership package and please do not share, copy and past this information per user agreement. There will be more news to follow in an addendum I will add to this update and we’ll be on prospect hard.  This is where you will get an idea of what Blue Devil Nation Premium is all about. [/private]

Jabari Parker and the Eventful Summer

Jabari Parker BDN/Andrew Slater Photo

Since last we profiled Chicago’s Jabari Parker, he has led the United States to a Gold Medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Mexico, where the 6’8″ wing was named the MVP of the tournament. Over the past month, Parker stood out against the nation’s best at the LeBron James Skills Academy and helped take his relatively young Mac Irvin AAU squad deep into several tournaments including the Peach Jam, Fab 48, and, most recently, into the finals at the Desert Duel.

Recently, Jabari spoke with us about a variety of issues, including his USA Basketball experience, his recent profile in Sports Illustrated, and a scouting report on some of his recent teammates, who also have received recruiting interest from Duke.

What schools are you considering?
Kansas, Washington, Duke, Illinois, and Michigan State.

What’s going to influence your decision when you choose a school?
The best program where I can fit in, a program where I can develop as an individual, both in basketball and character-wise.

[private]
(Other site) Chicago basketball, is that the best basketball in the country or what?
I would say in the country because, as a public school, we don’t have the ability to recruit as the other schools do, so I always consider us one of the best high school programs in the country.

What did you learn about yourself at the academies?
I learned that these guys are just as good as me, so I have to work hard, I have to make myself stand out through hard work.

What do you feel you need to work on?
Not just being an individual, but being able to have your teammates play around you and it’s not about one person…Just getting to loose balls and playing better defense, too, cause you know I can lag on that. And getting my jump shot improved, too.

What’s it like playing in front of college coaches?
Not a lot of pressure, but, you know, I’m kind of used to it, but it’s good because you know…
Do you find it makes you play or act differently? Do you find it motivates, excites, or even makes you a little nervous?
It makes me kind of motivated because I can show them what I’m not good at and show what I’ve improved on and lacking in skills.

Do you feel you’ve improved as a shooter over the past few months?
I’ve gotten better, but it needs some work. You know, I’m just getting in the gym and getting shots up. I’m not thinking about it too much, but just..
Getting comfortable with your range?
Yeah.

What was the USA Basketball experience like?
It was very good. It was very aggressive. It’s kind of different from the States because they called a whole lot of ticky-tack fouls. In the national game, they let you be more physical where hand-checking is allowed.

How long does it take you to get used to the rules, etc.?
Well, it took me about a week. We practiced in Colorado Springs, so they had us learn the rules.

What about winning the MVP? It must have been exciting.
It was good. I was actually surprised because you know Aaron?
Yeah, Aaron Gordon..
He played well and just my teammates..they were just as good as me, so when I got it, I felt honored.

What were the highlights of the trip? The highlight was obviously winning the gold medal, but other than that, I meant…
Yeah, but off the court, we went to Chichen Itza. It was one of the Aztec pyramids or something like that we got to see. It was like another wonder of the world. We got to see that up close.

Oh, that must’ve been a great experience. Forgive me, but what’s the latest in your recruitment?
Missouri just offered me, Tennessee just offered me, and UConn, too.

Who’s been after you hardest since that June 15th deadline?
Illinois and DePaul. DePaul has sent me a lot of things. They kind of get under you because they’re the local school.

Have you enjoyed playing with Jahlil Okafor? He said he looked up to you. What’s your relationship like with him?
Oh, that’s like a little brother to me. Jahlil’s very good. He’s a really big person down-low that you can throw the ball down to. He’s looking to be like me- one of the top players in his class. He’s very dominant.

He had mentioned how you had slimmed down on your body and how he was going to try to do the same.
Yeah, with me and him, it’s all about our bodies are different. Growing up, it’s about eating the right food. You can’t get away with taking a lot of days off.

Can you give the audience a scouting report on Theo Pinson?
Oh, Theo’s very good. You know, without the ball, he can run the lanes very well. He’s very athletic. He’s just good for his age. He can do so much that other kids can’t do at his age.
He’s a very natural player.
Yeah, he’s very natural.

What was the experience at LeBron like?
It went well. We did a lot of skill development, getting coaching from all different levels- from the NBA down to high school. You know, it just brings different views.

What sort of things did you learn?
Footwork, just different footwork… and skills as far as reverse pivots and face-up game.

Speaking about those five or six schools that you mentioned before, can you mention something about each of them?
Well, they each have great coaches, they have a long history, they’ve been able to win, you can also develop as a person too with them and you can trust them. I just like that the coaches there are all good.  I think I can fit into their systems well.

What makes you think that you can fit into their systems?
Because it’s versatile. I’ve been scouting throughout the players they had and I’m similar to some of those players..the ones that are able to post inside and out and play the small forward position.

How likely is it that your schools are likely to change from here on out?
It’s able to change, there are a lot of schools trying to come in, but you know, things can change, I guess. I just like those schools.

I guess I was just curious, but do you have a friendly rivalry with Julius Randle?
Well, you know, he’s a very good player. You know, me and him are a rival on the courts, but me and him get along very well and we talk. We share words and we talk about schools. I just like being around him.
I know you guys are often associated on a national level.
Yeah, yeah.

In terms of visits, have you taken any recently? Do you have any upcoming?
I don’t have any visits planned because, you know, I’ll be busy. In August, I really don’t know.

Who are some coaches that you’ve enjoyed talking to?
It was surprising to see Jim Calhoun, you know he just won the National Championship..and his interest in me being very high. He’s always won national championships and he plays in the Big East.

Have you spoken with Durant and what advice did he give you?
I met Durant in Chicago and…
I remember you really looked up to him, I remember that he was one of your favorite players. I’m glad that you had the opportunity to meet him.
Yeah, he’s a very good guy. He was always involved with us. He also worked with us individually as well. He also told us that we need to work hard and told me not to let my talent be wasted by not working hard.

Did you get to play against him at all?
Yeah, I got to play against him.
How did you do?
I did okay. He didn’t really play to his full effort, but…

How far along do you feel you are in terms of your recruitment?
I think it’s getting there. I think it’ll be before my senior year. I’ll be able to decide one day. Only time will tell.

(Kentucky site reporter) You mentioned Kentucky. You’ve gotten a little interest from Kentucky. Have they called you since June 15th.
Yeah, they called my parents and they didn’t really give me any insight into what was said. They just said that they were very interested in me.

(Kentucky site reporter) Do you feel like you have an offer from them?
Not really, because I think that they’re interested in other kids from the 2012 class. But Coach Orlando, he contacts my mom sometimes.
(Kentucky site reporter) What would be your interest level if they did come through with an offer?
It would be so-so.

Have you visited all five of them?
I have visited all but Kansas. I haven’t visited Kansas yet. I’ve been away and at the camps. I haven’t visited them yet.

Is that something you want to do or thought about?
Yeah.

Since we’re getting near the end of the season, how do you feel you and your team are playing right now?
I think we’re playing well, you know. We’re playing well as a team. This spring, you remember we were struggling a little bit, when we were trying to get used to each other and our surroundings. Right now, we’re starting every game strong and everybody is playing well with each other.

What is the importance for you and your teammates of going out with a bang…ending the summer on a high note?
I’ve been playing pretty well this summer. You know getting a lot of hard work in, between the Nike Skills Academies and the LeBron James Camp… and I’ve just tried to grow from there.

It translates also back to AAU ball.
Yes, it does. It really started from USA camp. We worked very hard from there and coaches there just said, you know, to play as hard today in practice as you will tomorrow in the games. We all tried to take that to heart, you know.

Speaking of USA Basketball, what was it like playing with Tyus Jones? How did he mesh with the team as your point guard?
Oh, yeah, it was really good group and Tyus was one of the best guards at passing. He really facilitated more than he scored for our team, but, you know, he could score anytime that he wanted.

In terms of watching tapes or games of older players, which ones have you enjoyed watching most?
I’ve actually enjoyed watching a lot, but recently I was watching the Boston Celtics against the Houston Rockets. I just loved to watch Larry Bird move around the floor and seeing how he stayed active and involved. Then, I’ve also been watching the Portland Trailblazers against the Nets or I mean the 76ers back when they had Doctor J and just trying to take from that and how they played hard and how they would try to get their baskets.

I saw you yesterday trying to incorporate the bank shot, which is sadly missing in a lot of the younger guys’ games.
Oh, yeah, definitely.

What did you think of the recent SI article?
Yeah, it was real good. You know I appreciate it. The guy interviewed me and he thought I was a very good guy.
Yeah, well, you are.
Thanks, you know I’m just glad with the way it turned out and I appreciated his time. I’m just so glad that I had an opportunity to have an article on me and I never want to take it for granted.

How do you account for the improvement in your explosiveness? When you’re dunking the ball, how much does the thought of igniting the crowd play into what you’re going to do?
You know I just started to get a little more bounce.
Sure.
Yeah, and you know the weight going down has helped me a lot as far as being lighter and helping me stay in the air a little longer.

What about your match-up with (Kuran) Iverson? He’s got a lot of tools too and he’s around your size, age, and athleticism.
Yeah, I’ve got to say that he brought the best out in me. He made me play harder and not so sluggish. In the beginning, I thought he got the best of me and so I needed to come out strong for my team in the second half.

Thank you very much. It was great to see you, Jabari.
It was great to see you.[/private]

Jahlil Okafor BDN Photo

Jahlil Okafor: Focused and Friendly Chicagoland Big Man

Jahlil Okafor BDN Photo

“For of those to whom much is given, much is required”
-President John F. Kennedy

Jahlil Okafor is a 6’10” rising sophomore from the North Side of Chicago. In the Gold Medal game of the 16U FIBA Americas, the fifteen year-old was perfect from the floor and finished with eighteen points and fourteen rebounds against Argentina. This was the culmination of months of preparation. Okafor had spent countless hours refining his low-post skills and shedding some baby fat in order to be able to both make the final cut and ultimately contribute to the USA 16s team.

Although one of the youngest members of the team, Jahlil wound up finishing second on the team in rebounds (9.2 rpg) and third in points (14.6 ppg), while leading the team in shooting, both free throw (82.6%) and field goal (71%). His Mac Irvin teammate and friend, FIBA Americas MVP Jabari Parker, was on hand to celebrate the moment with him on the court in Mexico.

Okafor had a solid freshman year on the varsity team at Whitney Young, a magnet school that is the alma mater of First Lady Michelle Obama, the NBA veteran Quentin Richardson, and the directors of the Matrix, the Wachowski brothers. Jahlil was reportedly offered a scholarship to DePaul as an eighth grader at Rosemont Elementary School by their former interim coach, Tracy Webster. Since then, Okafor, a passionate Bulls fan, has received college scholarship offers from high-major programs across the country.

In late May, the decision was made to advance the fifteen year-old Jahlil to Mac Irvin’s 17U team in order to give more of a post presence for Nike’s EYBL wing in Los Angeles. Like a duck taking to water, he was a natural in his game against the physical 6’8″ senior Elijah Macon and All-Ohio Red. His advanced footwork, size, and developing low-post game have helped him hold his own against significantly older players at the LeBron James Skills Academy and the Peach Jam.

After losing his mother in the third grade, the focused and gregarious big man has been raised by his father Chukwudi “Chuck” Okafor and helped out by his aunt, Dr. Chinyere Okafor-Conley, an assistant principal at Penn Elementary School in Chicago. Education is a major point of emphasis in the family and was the primary factor in Jahlil’s decision to select the academically challenging school, Whitney Young.

At various Nike EYBL events throughout this AAU season and at the recent LeBron James Skills Academy, Jahlil spoke with Blue Devil Nation.

What was it like playing LeBron James?
It was a great experience. I’ve been watching LeBron since I was a little kid. It was a really cool experience to be able to play with him. I couldn’t believe I was on his team. I got to play with LeBron and Jabari Parker was on my team, too, so that was good.

What were your hopes for USA Basketball and how did you prepare?
I couldn’t wait. That was like my hope for the whole year. That’s like all I was thinking about every time I’d work out, you know. Just getting ready for the USA team. It’s been very important to me. I wanted to represent for the US and be a part of it.

How was your USA Basketball experience?
It was a lot of talent and we pretty much knew everybody. It was fun to come together though. We were together for a few weeks.

Can you talk about training camp, making the team, and that whole experience?
It was very intense. It was pretty hard. There were a lot of emotions. We pretty much had to fight through it. When I finally made the team, I was just so excited. I was really happy. I called my dad first to tell him about it. It was very emotional. When I made the cut, I was really happy.
[private]

Yeah, I was really happy for you when I saw your name was on the list.
Thank you, thank you.

What was it like when you finally won the Gold Medal?
It was just great. We were practicing for, like, two and a half weeks and we kept trying to focus on getting that gold medal. We’d end every practice talking about it. It was even better than we expected.

And you guys were bonding.
Yeah, that was great. We became real close.

Where did you put the Gold Medal, by the way?
(laughs) Well, right now, I think it’s in my room, but it’s going to get framed.
That’ll be really nice.
Yeah.

How have you enjoyed the experience of playing with Jabari, both for Mac Irvin and on the USA team? He’s been tremendous on the AAU and camp circuit. Then, he won the FIBA MVP down in Mexico.
Playing with Jabari is great. He makes the game a lot easier. He’s a great scorer and a lot of people don’t know this, but he’s also a great passer. He makes it so easy for you on the break. He’s got great court vision.

He’s so versatile, too.
Yeah, he is.

Do you feel you’ve grown as a person, travelling abroad with USA Basketball and experiencing what you have?
Oh, yeah, I think I’ve gotten way more mature. My leadership is definitely better. I’m talking more with people out on the court in general.

What did you see when you went down to Mexico? Did you get to see any of the country or did you not have an opportunity?
I saw Chichen Itza.

Oh, yeah, Jabari mentioned that, too. He thought it was the highlight for him.
Yeah, it was for me too off the court, but other than that, we didn’t get to see too much off the court. We mostly concentrated on basketball.

What part of Chicago are you from, by the way?
Oh, I’m from the North Side. Yeah, I’m a North Side guy.

When you’re playing in front of coaches, what kind of emotions go through you? Are you excited? Nervous?
Well, playing in front of coaches is not too big for me. I try not to get too emotional one way or the other. I’ve been doing this for a number of years. I try not to get affected by it too much. I feel like I pretty much know that it’s just basketball. I’ve just got to go out there and perform.

What are you trying to show college coaches this summer?
Mostly, I want to show them that I can post up and that I’m one of the more dominant big men in the country.

For those that may not know, what’s your current size?
I’m 6’10” right now and about 250 to 255.

What are you projected to be?
Oh, 7’2.”

What position do you like to play?
Well, I’m more of a four, but I can play the four and the five.

You feel that you’re more of a natural four.
Yeah, I like the four more because they let move around a little more.
You’ve got pretty good footwork for a guy your size and age.
Yeah, thanks.

What about the experience playing now with the seventeens for Mac Irvin? How much of a jump do you feel it’s been from the other age brackets?
Oh, yeah, it’s totally different. I’m fifteen now and I was playing the 16s, but this is at a completely other level. It’s so much faster and guys are stronger down low.
I was going to check you out in Dallas, but you were playing with the 16s in a different area.
Oh, yeah. I played well, but, with the 17s, everything is much faster and you can’t take any plays off. You have to sprint every time.

You play in a great high school league in Chicago, but how does that compare with what you’ve faced today?
I think playing 17s in AAU is harder than high school because, in AAU, it’s like all of the players are really good at their high school instead of facing just one or two.

What kind of an adjustment did you have to make when you were promoted to the 17s?
Not that much. My coach just said to make my game faster. So, I tried to step up and do that.

What so view as your strengths right now?
My strengths are being able to post up, but I can face up..My body, my height, and my actual strength..I can take a lot.
It looks like you have the frame to really hold a lot of muscle.
Yeah, I think so.

What do you consider your weakness?
My weaknesses are probably staying in shape. I always need to stay on top of that.

How do you try to combat that? How do you plan on staying in shape during the downtimes this summer?
I was playing with the Olympic team this summer. I tried to get my body in shape before we headed down there.

Are you going on treadmills? Running? Spinning?
I’ve got two trainers. One works on my basketball skills and the other one works on my core and my flexibility.

That’s a good approach. Who’s recruiting you at this point? Are there any new schools that have expressed interest in you that haven’t offered yet? I have to make sure I cover my bases.
Oh yeah, sure, I understand.My scholarship offers are from Illinois, DePaul, Michigan State, and Arkansas. Ohio State just offered me. I’ve talked to UConn, Georgetown, Syracuse, and North Carolina… and Kansas. I’m supposed to take a visit there, but I’m not sure when. And Syracuse has shown an interest.

Has Duke recruited you at all yet?
No, not yet.

Is distance going to be a factor for you?
Oh, no, no. I’ll go anywhere. It doesn’t matter to me.

Have you taken any visits recently or do you have any plans other than Kansas?
I’m supposed to visit Ohio State, Illinois, and Kansas before the end of summer.

What are your goals next year for Whitney Young?
Our only goal next season is to simply win the state championship. Last year, we lost in the sectionals to Farragut and that was disappointing.
We’ll forget about that.
(laughs)

What are your goals for this summer?
My main goal was to make the final cut for the Olympic team. That was my number one priority. After that, my next goal is to help us win the Peach Jam.
Well, I think you’ve got a shot at both of those things.
Yes, sir.

Can you talk about playing with some of your high school teammates on your AAU team?
Oh, yeah, it’s great to play with guys like Jermaine Morgan, Thomas Hamilton, and Derrick Randolph. Those three guys really help me out a lot.

Who are you closest to?
Jermaine Morgan and Thomas Hamilton. Those two are like my two older brothers.

How did you choose Whitney Young?
Well, in seventh grade, before I knew they even had a good basketball team, I knew I wanted to go there because of the academics.

I’m from New York, but I know that Whitney Young’s a magnet school academically.
Yeah, even if the basketball team wasn’t any good, I would’ve gone there regardless.

That’s interesting. Are you a good student or pretty good?
Yeah, I’m pretty good.

What type of style of play do you think best suits you?
It doesn’t matter, but I think I’m a little more effective if we can slow it down a bit and let me post up.

Do you have a go-to move at this point?
I usually spin a lot and sometimes it works. (laughs)

Are you able to work out at all between these AAU events to work on skill development?
Yeah, I definitely try to get it in. I’ve had to miss some AAU practices cause I feel like I can grow more if I work out individually with a trainer. I feel like it benefits me sometimes more.

Is there a guy that you try to model your game after?
Jared Sullinger.

Did you have a dream school growing up?
No, I didn’t.

What about an NBA team?
Oh, definitely, the Bulls. The Chicago Bulls..I love them.

How’d you feel about their year this year?
Well, I think they surprised a lot of people. I mean nobody expected Derrick Rose to be MVP. I mean nobody expected them to be in the conference finals and so they accomplished that and I think they have a great future.

I think they’ve got a good shot over the next couple of years, if things break right.
Yeah, so do I.

Do you know Theo Pinson pretty well now?
Oh, yeah, definitely.

How would you assess your defense at this point?
I feel I’m playing pretty well on defense at this point. I like my effort and I guess, for the most part, the results. I’m definitely trying out there.

Can you give a scouting report on Jabari Parker? You’ve played with him in AAU and against him in high school. What’s the best defense against him?
Well, in the past, I would’ve said to make him shoot, but he’s improved so much in the last year. I think he’s one of the most unguardable players out here. I mean he’s been a great teammate, but he’s really stepped up his game and his body. He can beat you inside with his moves or athleticism and now outside with size and shooting. He can really run the court.

Are you related to Emeka Okafor?
Yeah, distant.

For your big decisions in life, who do you turn to for guidance?
Probably my dad and my high school coaches.

Is your dad here?
Yeah.

Can you talk about the rise of Chicago? A lot of people are talking about the rise of Chicago for the 2013 and 2014 classes on a national scale.
We have a bunch of players coming out, yeah. I think our top two players are also top ten in the country. 2013 class is very good to with Jabari Parker, Thomas Hamilton, and Kendrick Nunn. Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn are two of the best players in the state and they’re both going to be playing for USA. We have four players from Chicago on the USA team.

Is one of your goals to eventually be the #1 player in your class?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I want to try to be that.

Who are some people that you’re close with nationally that people might be surprised about?
Right, I’m really friends with Theo Pinson. Do you know him?
Yeah, and I like his dad, too.
Oh yeah, he’s real cool. I’m real cool with Theo and Ishmail Wainright. I’m also close with Dakari Johnson.

Going forward with Dakari (Johnson), is it friendly or is it a rivalry?
Well, I consider it both. We’ve known each other since about third grade.

Well, you two are two of the best players and big men in your class.
Yeah, they naturally compare us. It’s a friendly rivalry.

Who’s going to be your toughest competition next year in high school?
I’ve got to say Simeon. They’re going to be tough. They’re loaded.

How did you guys do against them this year?

We went 1-1. The first game they beat us, the second game we beat them at the end. The first game we played them at DePaul and the second game we played them right around where we’re from.

Who’s the best player you’ve faced?
Well, LeBron, but..

Alright, other than LeBron?
Oh, then Thomas Hamilton.

Oh, Tommy Hamilton. What do you feel you’ve gained this summer through your various experiences that you can bring to Whitney Young?
First of all, my condition is really better.
Yeah, I saw you running the court out there a lot better than you did in the past.
Yeah, I’m also more of a vocal leader now and also my defense is better.

Are you guys going to be on TV this year so people can catch you?
Yeah, we’ve actually got a couple of games on TV, not sure when though.

What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
I’m just a humble guy. Modest…very modest. That’s it.

Thanks a lot, Jahlil, and good luck.
Sure, thank you. [/private]