The Whitney Young Dolphins cruised through the first and second round of the CPS City Playoffs after two double-digit wins over Schurz and CVS last week. The February 5 matchup against Schurz, however, was more than just another win in the record books. It was the last time the trio of seniors would play on their home floor. Unfortunately senior forward Paul White was unable to fully participate in either of the games due to a lower-body injury he sustained the week before. But being the supportive teammate he is, White actively watched from the sidelines, cheering his team to victory Sunday night at Corliss High School.
The first two quarters for the Dolphins were productive as they led by 23 going into the half. They seemed to be clicking on all cylinders and center Jahlil Okafor appreciated the numerous touches he received, feeling as if this game was a positive step forward in attaining his ultimate goal.
“I think they did a great job of getting me the ball tonight. I feel like I was dominant on both ends of the floor. Coach wanted me to make a statement today. It’s go time now. It’s the City Playoffs and then the State Playoffs. So I’m ready to get to the next game,”Okafor said speaking of the highly-anticipated matchup between Young and City-rival Morgan Park on February 16 at Chicago State University at 4 p.m.
White, who is expected to suit up, is excited about the matchup and feels his team is well-prepared for it. But despite the “big game” being just a few days away, head coach Ty Slaughter is looking at this game just like all others, making no special preparations for the defending State Champions.
“What we are doing is just trying to work on the things that we do because at the end of the day it is going to come down to us being able to execute the things that we want to execute. So it’s not as much as what they do, it’s what we do,” Slaughter said.
But while the Dolphins prepare more or less for the quarter-final matchup against Morgan Park, there was little time this week for a few of them to relax as Okafor, White, and Miles Reynolds were all McDonald All-American nominees. Okafor, however, was selected to play in the prestigious game in his hometown at the United Center on April 2. But even though the latter two won’t be playing in the game, the honor of being recognized sat well with both.
“My senior year has been amazing. If I sat down with other people, I’m pretty sure the stories I have would probably outweigh the rest,” White said with a smile. “Our coach puts us in situations to be able to go places that most people, especially in the City of Chicago… the kids would not be able to go. So we are extremely grateful for that. As far as this year goes, it has been amazing. We just want to top it off with a City and State Championship.
“Growing up I always loved basketball but I am actually the first person in my family to do something of this magnitude,” he went on to say. “So I would say that I kind of hold a lot of light for my family… and knowing that it wasn’t much of a chance for me to be in this position but I still made it happen. I’m very grateful for the position that I have been put in. I feel like I have made the right decision so far and I am going to continue to keep doing so.”
Reynolds echoed saying, “Oh yea it is an honor. Coming from Whitney Young, having three McDonald All-American nominees and one chosen, it is a huge accomplishment for our team and it just lets us know how hard we have been working. First to be here right now and getting this treatment, it is a special moment for us.
“It’s been a great year. Committing to school in October, signing in November was probably the biggest accomplishment in my life. St. Louis is a great school, a great basketball program,” he continued. “You see how well they are doing this year so I am just excited to get down there and start working. Going to California out to Jamie Foxx’s house, it’s surreal. Just traveling all around the country to play the game I love is just really special.”
Coach Slaughter, who has been with the trio since their freshman year, is proud of the growth he has seen in these young men over the years. But more importantly is pleased with the team in its entirety, including the behind-the-scenes hard work of the coaching staff.
“From a coaching standpoint I feel we have done a very good job. As I’ve said to you before, we had a very daunting schedule from the beginning to the end and our guys have weathered some pretty incredible storms and continue to play some really good basketball. Along the way, a couple bumps here and there but overall I would rate us with a B+ right now. I think the morale of the team is extremely high. We have a veteran basketball team and I think they understand what is at stake. And they are prepared to try and finish the deal,” he said.
After their hopeful win over Morgan Park on Sunday, the Dolphins move one step closer to facing off against Kansas-bound, #2 prospect Cliff Alexander and Curie, a game many are itching to witness: the battle of arguably two of the best big men in the country.
Okafor, however, answered blandly saying, “It’s just whoever we play. I really don’t care who it is. Just whoever we have to beat to win.”
But leave it to coach Slaughter to give a more wordy response, although still just grazing the surface.
“We look forward to that game if Curie continues to win and we continue to win. And the reason we look forward to it is because it is for the city championship for the City of Chicago. So really as you said, we try not to look past the game at hand and that game against Morgan Park is a formidable game. The game after that if we are fortunate enough to win on Sunday will be another incredible game against a really good Uplift team and an outstanding Orr team. So to get to what would hopefully, or even to think about Curie, we can’t do that. All we really can do is take one game at a time. And if Curie happens to be the team that is standing and we are the team that is moving on from our side, then we definitely look forward to that basketball game,” he said.