Over the past few decades, the State of Illinois has earned a reputation of birthing some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen with the vast majority stemming from the inner city of Chicago. Two basketball powerhouses that have made national headlines on numerous occasions teamed up this past Saturday to host the Chicago Elite Classic at the UIC Pavilion where 17 ESPN Top 100 players took center stage. Whitney Young head coach Ty Slaughter and Simeon head coach Rob Smith decided it was time to bring a classic of this magnitude to the city, according to Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
“You see everybody here? It’s a great game. I’m glad that the coaches from both Whitney Young and Simeon came to me now just over two years ago, and they said they really want to bring the Classics here. I said I’m in, you had me all along,” Emmanuel acknowledged. “And I think you can see the energy. It’s great for the kids because of the competition. They get to spread their wings beyond the kids they have been playing and really see themselves on a national stage which when they graduate, they will be doing it.”
For the third year in a row, Chicago has produced the ESPN No.1 overall high school prospect in Young’s center, Jahlil Okafor -- Simeon’s Jabari Parker (Duke) and Perspectives’ Anthony Davis (Kentucky), who went No.1 in the 2012 NBA draft to the New Orleans Pelicans, previously held the slot.
But in the highly-anticipated premier matchup against Young and St. John Bosco, an elite California team featuring two ESPN Top 100 players, the Dolphins fell victim to a last second three pointer by UCONN commit Daniel Hamilton -- notching his fourth buzzer-beater in two years -- losing to the west coast squad, 62-59. And despite failing to come out victorious, Young’s point guard Miles Reynolds had the hot hand behind the three, showing throughout the game why they were dubbed No. 1.
Coach Slaughter added, “He is a senior. He has been here before and that’s what seniors do, they step up and play.”
But all eyes were glued to Okafor who showcased his “Swiss Army Knife” of talent, gaining the attention and respect of opposing head coach Derrick Taylor.
“I’ve been in this business 26 years. I’ve coached McDonald’s All-American games and everything. He is as good as I’ve ever seen as a post player. He is polished, he’s skilled, he’s patient. I mean he is basically… he really could play in the NBA right now,” Taylor said.
The Dolphins attempted to regain their supremacy in the city when they faced off against the Westinghouse Warriors Monday night. And although winning in excess of a 20-point margin, their overall performance and chemistry did not mirror the elite play just two days prior as they recorded countless unforced turnovers and missed easy shots around the rim. The frustration on the faces of coach Slaughter and Okafor was vivid as the team failed to get the ball inside, taking an abundance of long-range jumpers. But the talented Duke-bound center found ways to score as he dazzled the crowd with athletic slam dunks.
As the team prepared to travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take on Apple Valley at the GEICO ESPN High School Basketball Showcase Thursday night, all the nation’s attention was geared toward two top prospects that previously declared to Duke Nation. But on this night they were on opposite ends of the floor as the No. 1 center Okafor stood against No. 1 point guard Tyus Jones for one of the most anticipated games on their schedules, a contest even coach Mike Krzyzewski refused to miss as he watched from the sidelines.
Okafor and Jones have a long-storied history, being best friends since third grade and playing together for USA Basketball. And while the two have played against each other before, arranging a game during their senior season was always on their bucket list.
“Me and Tyus have been trying to schedule a game together for the past couple of years,” Okafor revealed. “So it’s been a lot of talking trash and me letting him know we are going to beat them by a lot of points. Then him saying he is not going to let me come into his state and win a game so it’s been a lot of trash talk and I am looking forward to it.”
Okafor kept his word as the Dolphins beat the Eagles, 80-70, snapping their 35-game win streak in front of a packed house and TV sets around the nation. The squad started out slow, allowing a couple of easy baskets in the paint and giving up a pair of threes, but remained on top as they headed into the half leading by nine. And after stellar performances from all three seniors, Okafor (25 points, 15 rebounds), Miles Reynolds (18 points), and Paul White (17 points), the team lead by as much as 17 in the second half. But just as it looked like Young was on the cusp of putting Apple Valley away, the Eagles gained momentum behind Jones (29 points) as they came roaring within seven points before suffering the double-digit defeat.
Young (2-1) returns home to face Farragut High School for the first home game of the season Monday night, continuing their march to a state title.
Be sure to watch High School Lites at 11 p.m. every Friday night on Comcast SportsNet to see a new episode of DRIVE: Whitney Young Basketball, presented by Northern Illinois University. Also, check out the DRIVE: Whitney Young Basketball preps page for updates all season long here on CSNChicago.com.