Could Whitney Young's Okafor be No. 1 prep player for 2014?

Could Whitney Young's Okafor be No. 1 prep player for 2014?
May 25, 2012, 2:26 pm
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It has never happened before -- even when Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas were the top-rated players in the Chicago area in 1978 and 1979. The Windy City has never produced the No. 1 player in the nation in successive classes.

It could happen this season.

Simeon's Jabari Parker already is acknowledged as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013.

Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor is making a determined bid to claim the No. 1 spot in the class of 2014.

"He will impact the high school game in ways that no other player has in this state," Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said earlier this year. "He is as polished a post player as you will see. Eddy Curry and Rashard Griffith were not at his level at the same time on offense."

Will he be as good as Russell Cross as a defensive player? Will he be as good as Anthony Davis? Will he be good enough to be the next high school sensation to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated?

Longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com reports that Okafor "has clearly passed" 6-foot-10 Dakari Johnson of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to become the top big man in the class of 2014 and has closed the gap between himself and 6-foot-7 Andrew Wiggins of Toronto, Canada, who plays at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, as the No. 1 player.

"He has soft hands, great touch on his shot and phenomenal footwork for a player with his size and body," Coleman said. "He is an efficient player -- he shot 7-of-9 from the floor in a game we watched -- and he just needs to continue to work on his explosion off the floor to reach the full potential of his skill set."

Coleman said Okafor has a body and style similar to Jared Sullinger. "But he is bigger and more low block-oriented than Sullinger. He can pop and hit the jumper or attack other bigs off the dribble. But he is at his best using his feet around the hoop. He has size more comparable to Eddy Curry in high school. But his game reminds me more of Sullinger," he said.

Is he better than Anthony Davis, the former Chicago Perspectives product who starred at Kentucky as a freshman and likely will be the No. 1 selection in the upcoming NBA draft?

"He has better low block offensive tools than Davis entering Davis' senior year in high school and is as accomplished as a rebounder," Coleman said. "But he doesn't affect a game like Davis on the defensive end, where Davis is a shot-blocking machine.

"And although Okafor has solid ball skills for a powerful big man, he doesn't have the same handle that Davis (a former guard) does, nor can he transition end to end like Davis. Still, he is an impact talent at the next level and a future professional talent at power forward or center."

Coleman agrees with those who contend that Okafor is ahead of Parker at the same stage of their careers, based on major college interest and overall performance.

"As Jabari was coming out of a body change (baby fat turning to muscle), it propelled him past Julius Randle to the top spot in the class of 2013 over the spring and summer," he said. "Jahlil still could make a similar upgrade physically since he does carry some of the same (baby fat) weight that takes away from vertical explosion, which would help him to be a more dominant defender."

In comparing big men, Coleman said Okafor ranks with Eddy Curry, Russell Cross, Rashard Griffith, Kevin Love, Jared Sullinger, Shawn Bradley, Sam Perkins and maybe even Anthony Davis (since he was such a late developer) in the second tier at this point. Clearly, he said, Okafor isn't in a class with Cross defensively.

"But Jahlil has another 18 months of development," Coleman said. "For now, however, he is behind the upper echelon that includes Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard and Greg Oden.

"Almost all of the top tier big men were dominating shot blockers who dominated on that end, regardless of their offensive prowess. They always had the ability to change the game due to that skill. Jahlil can become that type of player if he makes that a priority in the next six months heading into his senior season."

Slaughter agrees with Coleman's assessment. "I believe in the next two years he will be a phenomenal defensive player. After four years, we will say he not only is a great offensive player but a complete all-around player. He will impact the high school game in ways no other player has in this state," Slaughter said.

"When we talk about Russell Cross, we have to realize that the biggest learning curve for most young big players is learning defense, having to defend bigger players. Will he be better than Anthony Davis defensively? It will be a stretch. That's what Davis is best known for, to defend and block shots. But Okafor is a much better offensive player.

"Coming out of grade school, Jahlil was the biggest player on the floor. He needs to be in better condition and be able to defend bigger players. He is starting to focus on defense and rebounding. Remember, he only finished his sophomore year."

That's the scary part.