Young's Okafor rounding into form

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Young's Okafor rounding into form

How good is Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 sophomore center?

"He is the second best prospect in Illinois regardless of class behind (Simeon's) Jabari Parker," said Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"Actually, the gap between them is not all that great. Like Parker, Okafor is a certain one-and-done player in college and has a great chance to be a future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. We have not seen a current high school post player who is any better."

With 6-foot-9 junior Tommy Hamilton recovering from surgery to repair a torn patella and sidelined for at least four more weeks and 6-foot-9 sophomore Paul White still recovering from an injury and not performing up to expectations, the burden is on Okafor to carry the Dolphins as far as he can take them. And his shoulders are proving to be very strong indeed.

"When I look at today's game, there aren't any guys who want to play with their back to the basket and go into the post," said Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "(Okafor) wants to be a pure post player. He isn't interested in shooting from the outside. He wants to play with his back to the basket. He is a player that one man can't defend.

"Remember, he is only 16. He has established a great body of work at a young age. He has a great upside. He will impact the high school game in ways no other player has in this state. After four years, we will say he not only is a great offensive player but a complete all-around player."

"Okafor is consistently dominant in the paint and is impossible to move on the block," Roy Schmidt said. "He simply overpowers all of his competition. He is already more advanced and has more maturity than most centers at the college level. There is no question that the sky is the limit."

After observing Okafor for the first time at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina -- he had 23 points and seven rebounds in the first half of one game -- longtime recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports was impressed. But he still had some reservations.

"He is very advanced offensively for a young player. He is strong, big, rebounds and does it all," Gibbons said. "But he isn't a great athlete. He has size and strength and uses it well for a sophomore. But I don't know if he'll be one of the all-time greats."

Another longtime recruiting analyst, Dave Telep of ESPN, described Okafor as "the next Jared Sullinger," comparing him favorably to the Ohio State star who is a leading candidate for National Player of the Year recognition in 2012.

Slaughter believes Okafor could emerge as the best big man ever produced in Illinois, better than NBA lottery pick Eddy Curry of Thornwood and Rashard Griffith of King. "Curry and Griffith were not at his level of offense at the same time in their development," Slaughter said.

At the moment, however, Okafor is all about potential. He is a 16-year-old sophomore who isn't in the best of shape, doesn't run the floor well, hasn't learned to face the basket and must develop in several areas in the next two years before he can be compared to 6-10 Russell Cross, the former Manley star who probably was the most dominating and intimidating big man ever produced in Illinois.

Cross was an All-Stater in 1979 and 1980. He led Manley to the state quarterfinals in 1979 and to the state championship in 1980. He starred for three years at Purdue, then opted for the NBA and was the sixth overall pick in the 1983 draft by the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered in high school that never fully healed eventually limited his NBA career to only one season.

The state has never produced another player like Cross, before or since. He was tall, long, mobile and agile, a great rebounder and shot blocker and defender, a high school version of Bill Russell without any exaggeration. At this time, Okafor doesn't resemble Cross in any way, shape for form.

"(Okafor) has become a better rebounder this year," Slaughter said. "Defense will come with more work. And better conditioning, too. Will he be the defensive player that Cross was? Will he be as good as Anthony Davis (the Kentucky freshman from Chicago Perspective)? I believe in the next two years he will be a phenomenal defensive player."

In fairness, Okafor and his Whitney Young team are competing against what is arguably the toughest schedule of any high school in the country. The brand of competition can't help but to improve his skills, bolster his motivation and inspire his resolve.

Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com rates Okafor as the No. 2 player in the class of 2014 behind 6-foot-7 Andrew Wiggins, a Canadian-born wingman who attends a prep school in Huntington, West Virginia.

Okafor claims his recruiting is wide open, that he isn't close to making a decision, that he is enjoying the process and plans to take full advantage of his opportunities to evaluate colleges, their coaches and programs and campuses. He already has made unofficial visits to several schools, including Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State and Illinois.

He has several scholarship offers from major Division I schools but his father denies a published report that his son is "most impressed" with Arizona, Duke, Illinois and Michigan State. It is much too early, his father insists, to disregard Ohio State, Georgetown, Connecticut, Iowa, Arkansas, Purdue, Tennessee, Missouri and DePaul.

And what about four perennial national powers that are on his wish list but haven't offered scholarships yet--Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse? Each has talked to Slaughter and expressed interest in recruiting Okafor.

Look for Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse to leap into the Okafor sweepstakes. Each has talked to his coach and expressed interest in recruiting him. But they haven't offered yet. Okafor did make an unofficial visit to the North Carolina campus.

Okafor also has talked to Kentucky freshman star Anthony Davis and would like to be in a position to consider Kentucky. "I'm a big fan of Kentucky. I really like what they have to offer. But I haven't heard from them," he said. However, some critics doubt Okafor could be effective in the dribble-drive offense that coach John Calipari employs.

What else do you need to know about Okafor?

He is a distant cousin of Emeka Okafor, the former Connecticut star and 2004 Olympian who currently plays for the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA.

He was a member of the gold medal-winning USA Under-16 national team that won the FIBA Americas championship and qualified for the Under-17 FIBA world championship in 2012.

He plays the tuba.

His favorite basketball announcer is Dick Vitale.

Well, nobody said he was perfect.

Big Ten preview: Michigan's pass-catchers should make life easy for new QB

Big Ten preview: Michigan's pass-catchers should make life easy for new QB

With Jim Harbaugh & Co. down in the submarine, there’s no way of knowing who will be the team’s starting quarterback when the season starts in a little more than a week. And if Harbaugh’s secretive ways are to continue, we might not know who won this offseason’s quarterback competition until the Michigan offense takes the field.

But the good news for whichever of the two candidates wins the job is that he will not be hurting for weapons in the passing game.

Last season, Jake Rudock made the transition from Iowa to Michigan look easy, doing great things as the Wolverines’ starting quarterback. But his stay in Ann Arbor was always going to last just one year, meaning the race to replace him was on.

John O’Korn and Wilton Speight are the two guys who are competing to be this year’s Rudock. O’Korn sat out last season after transferring in from Houston, where he threw for 3,117 yards as a freshman in 2013 before losing his starting job the following season when he threw eight interceptions in the season’s first five games. Speight, meanwhile, spent his sophomore season as Rudock’s backup, appearing in six games and most notably leading a second-half comeback in Michigan’s win over Minnesota, throwing a touchdown pass on the game-winning drive.

Both guys have an advantage Rudock didn’t: They’ve spent a year in the system, learning the offense and getting ready for their shot. They’ll hope to have the same success Rudock did thanks to a little more preparation.

“The good thing about it is the quarterbacks have been here,” wide receiver Amara Darboh said during Big Ten Media Days. “They got a chance to see Jake Rudock do it, so hopefully they learned from him and mimic the things he was doing and can translate that to this season.

“I think it’ll be a big difference because they’re comfortable with the playbook and all that. Especially as quarterback, you have to know what everyone’s doing, you have to be ready to tell other people and read defenses and all that. So that’s going to help a lot.”

But the biggest thing that will help out either O’Korn or Speight is the guys they’ll be throwing to.

Darboh and fellow receiver Jehu Chesson are two of the best wideouts in the Big Ten, and together they form one of the best tandems in the country. Darboh caught 58 passes last season for 727 yards and five touchdowns, while Chesson caught 50 passes for 764 yards and nine touchdowns.

“They’re the best in the country, honestly. Best duo in the country,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. “Those two guys headlining it, they challenge me to be better, the best cornerback I can be every day or they’re going to expose me every day.”

With arguing their collective value to the Wolverines not really a debate, the only thing left to discuss is which is better. And even Harbaugh is going back and forth on that one.

“Amara Darboh, I would say he's our top receiver right now,” Harbaugh said. “And as we went through the season last year, I thought that was Jehu Chesson. And then Amara surged during spring ball there, and they're in a very good-hearted competition there to be our best receiver.”

But as good as those two guys are, neither is even the most-hyped pass-catcher on the team. That title belongs to tight end Jake Butt, who made the decision to return for his senior season and is being projected as one of the best tight ends in college football.

Last season, Butt caught 51 passes for 654 yards and three touchdowns en route to earning All-Big Ten First Team honors and the conference’s Tight End of the Year Award.

“The main reason I came back is I think we have a chance at having a special season this year,” Butt said. “I got a little taste of what that could be last year. The first two years, I didn’t really get to experience any of the reasons that I came to Michigan — that was to win and win big. I think we have a chance. I can feel the momentum start to build up a little bit going into camp to achieve some of those goals.”

With all three of these guys — not to mention an experienced offensive line and an established running game — there should be little trouble for whoever the new quarterback ends up being. And if O’Korn or Speight proves as capable as Rudock was last season, then the Michigan offense could end up being pretty high flying.

Huskers unveil new 'Husker Chrome' alternate uniforms to be worn vs. Northwestern

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Huskers unveil new 'Husker Chrome' alternate uniforms to be worn vs. Northwestern

Michigan is now Jordan.

Wisconsin is now Under Armour.

But Nebraska is still outfitted by adidas, and the company came up with some new alternate threads for the Huskers this fall.

On Tuesday, Nebraska unveiled the "Husker Chrome" alternate uniform, which the team will wear in its Sept. 24 game against Northwestern in Evanston.

These uniforms are actually pretty cool looking and certainly less outrageous than some of the designs adidas has whipped up for the Huskers in the past.

Here's part of the official description:

"The special edition uniform is centered around a pristine white colorway with metallic accents to create a bold alternate look for the Cornhuskers. The modernized style features metallic red numbering with metallic chrome outlining on the jersey and is accented with metallic chrome stripes on both the jersey and the pants. Additional detailing includes an oversized, metallic red bold 'N' logo that seamlessly aligns with the pant stripes.

"As a tribute to the traditional aesthetic of the Cornhuskers football program, the helmet features a metallic red 'N' logo on the sides and is accented with player numbers featured in metallic red and metallic chrome outlining on the back of the helmet, showcasing the Star City’s ability to shine."

And here are some more pictures of the uniforms included with Nebraska's announcement:

 

 

 

 

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

[RELATED: Porter balancing job as 'coach' and starting CB]

Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.