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

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

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.

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

The Blackhawks agreed to one-year contract extensions with defenseman Michal Rozsival and forward Jordin Tootoo, the team announced Tuesday.

Rozsival's deal is worth $650,000 while Tootoo's deal carries a $700,000 cap hit, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

The move gives the Blackhawks two players eligible to be exposed during this summer's expansion draft.

NHL teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman that have played at least 40 games in 2015-16 or more than 70 in 2016-17, and they must be under contract in 2017-18.

[MORE: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers]

Rozsival and Tootoo meet those requirements, which means the Blackhawks can now protect Ryan Hartman, who is also eligible.

They are allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender. 

Rozsival, 38, has one goal and one assist in 16 games this season, often serving as the team's extra defenseman. Tootoo, 34, has no points in 36 games.

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

The NFL Scouting Combine convening this week in Indianapolis isn't really the high point of pre-draft assessing being done by NFL teams. Those evaluations have been going on for many, many months — on college campuses, at bowl games — and will go on with Pro Days and selected visits to team headquarters.
 
But what it does represent is two things: a chance for teams to probe for detailed medical information on some 300 potential draftees, and a case study in savvy brand marketing by the NFL that has become its own hot-stove league on steroids (hopefully not literally for any of the participants).
 
Covering the event 25 years ago, representatives of the three Chicago-area newspapers comprised one of the two largest media contingents (the other being New York's) going about the business of football reporting after the sport had largely moved off the sports-front with the wrap-up of the Super Bowl. No TV, no internet, and the Combine operators really didn't want media around for what was set up as a purely team-centric.
 
Now the NFL has created a media event that keeps it in news prominence at what had always been a dormant calendar nadir for pro football, with not only some 1,000 media members and outlets welcome, but also with fans able to attend events like the 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dashes, whose results were once something that reporters dug around for as news scoops.
 
But beyond the observed events, including group media interviews for the majority of athletes, individual draft stocks will be affected by vertical jumps, cone drills and such. And by interviews with individual teams, which are still private. (For now. Somehow, it's not beyond imagination that someday even those will be televised, in an NFL guise of "transparency" or something, but that's for another time.)
 
Strengths, weaknesses and the QB conundrum
 
One annual refrain are the assessments of the overall draft class, what positions are its deepest, its weakest, an evaluation that carries some weight because invitees to the Combine include underclassmen, which the Senior Bowl does not.
 
But a danger within the process is exactly that — the "weight" assigned to results, particularly the on-field ones. On-field evaluations are the best indicators, but the right on-field ones were there on playing fields and now tape, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.

[RELATED - Which direction will Bears go at pick No. 3?]
 
Combine performance has affected drafts rightly and wrongly over the years.
 
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has made an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a player declining the test, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.
 
But some player or players will move up or slip down on draft boards because of drill work. That may be unfortunate for the player, and for the teams.
 
QB or not QB
 
It is at this point that the Combine becomes increasingly relevant to the Bears, or at least to those trying to discern what realistic chances exist for the Bears to address their well-documented areas of need (quarterback, tight end, cornerback, safety).
 
An inherent problem at this stage is the difficulty in arriving at a right decision, particularly at the paramount position. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock did some checking that illustrates the issue.
 
Between 2007-14, teams selected 21 quarterbacks in the first round. Nine of them are no longer even in the league, and only a handful have achieved something close to the coveted "franchise" distinction: Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Carolina's Cam Newton, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Only Flacco has won a Super Bowl.
 
"It gives a pretty good feel for the 'hit' rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," Mayock said on Monday.
 
"My message to NFL teams is, 'you've got to keep trying, keep on swinging.'"
 
Whether the Bears take a swing at a franchise quarterback at No. 3 is still many weeks off. But Mayock didn't endorse making that swing at that point.
 
"I don't have any quarterbacks anywhere near the Top 10," Mayock said. "That doesn't mean I think there's no talent there, because I think there are four quarterbacks that have first-round talent. In my order I had for my initial Top 5, it was [DeShone] Kizer, [Deshaun] Watson, [Mitch] Trubisky, [Patrick] Mahomes. All four of them have holes in their games.
 
"I don't think any of them are ready to start Week 1."
 
More to come over the next week. Make that "weeks."