Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor still focused on a state championship

Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor still focused on a state championship

December 27, 2013, 6:45 pm
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Kristen Harper

After producing some of the most talented athletes the nation has seen -- two-time State Champion, 2007 Chicago Bulls No. 1 overall draft pick, and three-time NBA All-Star Derrick Rose (Simeon), McDonalds All-American, NCAA Champion (2012), and 2012 New Orleans Pelicans No. 1 overall draft selection Anthony Davis (Perspectives), and four-time State Champion, 2012 National Player of the Year, and the projected 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick, Duke’s Blue Devils’ small forward Jabari Parker (Simeon) -- the City of Chicago has once again produced another gifted athlete: Whitney Young center, Duke-bound recruit Jahlil Okafor, who is currently the No. 1 prospect in the country according to Rivals.com.

With Okafor being a major piece to the success of Young’s potential, he has carried the weight like a veteran, putting up impressive numbers throughout their 5-2 campaign. And in the City of Psalms tournament last weekend, he continued to put any doubters to rest as he scored 22 points and pulled down an astounding 23 rebounds while dishing out four assists in the Dolphins’ third place win over Jacksonville Providence in Fort Myers, Florida.

And while the vast majority of Okafor’s success is credited to the hard work and long hours he puts in at the gym, he pays great tribute to the coach he has known since he was in the eighth grade, getting his first taste of the highly-competitive AAU circuit. 

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“My relationship with coach Ty is great. When I was in seventh grade deciding to come to Whitney Young because my dad wanted me to come here just because the academics were so great here, I spoke with him [Slaughter] and we instantly hit it off,” Okafor said. “I played with him the next year in eighth grade when I was with Ferrari, the AAU team. I built a great relationship with him and I’ve always known that I was going to be here at Whitney Young.

“Coach Ty has been great to me. He was giving me the best advice when I was going through the stressful recruiting process. In the end he was the person I came to just about every day getting his input and telling me not to get too involved with the emotions, not trying to hurt feelings and stuff like that. I love coach Ty and he has really helped me become the person I am today.”

There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that Okafor is arguably one of the most skilled low-post players that has come out of the city in the past ten years, but even with all the hoopla that surrounds him, he remains grounded, making him an easy player to coach according to head coach Ty Slaughter. 

“I don’t have to do anything. It is who he is. Jahlil by nature is a very humble person,” he went on to say. “He has been blessed with extraordinary gifts and that’s not something anyone could teach or anyone could give. That is something God gave to him and he cherishes it.  And I think when you take the gifts that God gives you and you worship them and you cherish them, it is easy for you to be humble because that’s the way you should be. And I think as a result of that, he continues to get more. So for me it’s really easy. He is just a big kid who just loves playing basketball and who happens to be extraordinarily good.”

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Playing with a No. 1 prospect might have been a burden from some teammates in the past years as they try to outshine the most talented player on the floor usually resulting in an unbalanced chemistry and more losses than wins but for the Dolphins this is not the case. From the starting point guard down to the last man called off the bench, playing with Okafor is exciting and with his highly competitive skill set, he has the ability to make everyone around him better. His work ethic is shown not only on the stat sheet but also in practice when he may think no one is looking. 

“I mean everybody sees the film of him dominating and stuff but what really inspires me from him is the hard work he puts in,” transfer point guard Anthony Mosley said. “When we work out I notice he isn’t just doing it, he is actually talking to himself saying ‘come on you got to do this, you trying to go somewhere,’ and that kind of rubbed off on me.” 

As Mosley mentioned, Okafor will be joining one of the most successful basketball programs come next fall when he begins his college journey at Duke University. But before he can set his sights on trading in his beloved Blue and Orange for the legendary Blue and White, he wants what most athletes want before walking across the graduation stage: lifting a state championship banner come March. 

“My main focus right now is to win a state championship. That is my only goal being that I failed the last three years,” Okafor said. “So all my energy, all my heart, all my everything is all going into winning a state championship this year.

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Coming up short in previous years against cross-town rival Simeon has left an impression on Okafor, something he wishes not to repeat his last time around. 

“That has definitely made me a lot hungrier being that I have failed the last three years and being that I’ve never won state. And I definitely feel like I don’t want to graduate and leave Whitney Young High School without having a state championship and a banner on the wall,” Okafor said. 

And with all the built-in talent this now veteran Dolphins’ team embodies, his hope of taking home a state title is becoming more and more of a reality everyday.