Will Jahlil Okafor be a pied piper?

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Will Jahlil Okafor be a pied piper?

Elite basketball players like to play with elite basketball players.
They choose to play together on AAU teams in the summer. They transfer from one high school to another to be teammates. And, in some cases, they agree to go to the same college.
Call them pied pipers.
They are recruiting magnets, the kind of skilled or charismatic players who attract other blue chip players. The Wonder Five did it at Kentucky, Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton at UCLA, Cazzie Russell at Michigan and Quinn Buckner at Indiana.
Jahlil Okafor could be another. Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 junior is rated as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014 nationally by Rivals.com, a drop step ahead of 6-foot-4 guard Emmanuel Mudlay of Dallas, Texas, guard Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Minnesota, and his close friend, 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander of Curie.
Okafor has talked to Jones and Alexander about going to college together. They are being recruited by many of the same schools, including Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Ohio State.
"We talk about how much fun it would be and how great it would be to go to school together. We're like brothers. We're in the same national spotlight. We go to some of the same camps and that brings us closer together," Okafor said.
"But I'm not worried about making a commitment now. All of us are focusing on this season. For me, it's all about this season. My goal is to try to help my team win the state championship. I'm very hungry for it, eager to achieve it. Then everything will fall into place for me."
How good is Okafor?
"Okafor needs to be an even greater defensive presence if Whitney Young is to win a state title," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "We think that he will be and that he is more than up to the task.
"At the same time, Okafor still needs to receive even more touches offensively. In the past, there have been too many instances in which Whitney Young has run its offense away from him. We don't see that happening this season."
The Schmidt brothers claim Okafor is more polished than former Mr. Basketball stars Rashard Griffith of King and Eddy Curry of Thornwood at the same stage of their careers. However, as of now, they agree that he isn't a better defender than Prospectives' Anthony Davis, who led Kentucky to the NCAA championship as a freshman and was the NBA's first draft choice last season.
"Davis is the most skilled big man that we have seen come out of Chicago in recent memory, maybe ever," Roy Schmidt said. "That is in no way a knock on Okafor. It is simply something additional for him to strive for."
Okafor was disappointed with last season's 17-10 finish. Anything less than a state title was a disappointment. But he thinks it will be motivation for this year's team, which returns three starters and two promising transfers who figure to make an immediate impact.
"Youth affected us last year. We started three sophomores. Lack of experience was a factor," Okafor said. "Being there once and knowing what it takes to get to the state title game will help us to win this year. Following the coach, trusting the direction he leads us and staying together as a team will give us an edge."
Okafor, a distant cousin of NBA star Emeka Okafor of the Washington Wizards, has been in the spotlight since seventh grade when he was recruited and offered by DePaul in violation of NCAA rules. Last summer, he was tournament MVP for the gold-medal winning USA team in the FIBA Under-17 World Championship.
But can he generate a team chemistry with White, Peak, Reynolds, Madison and Toye in Whitney Young's bid to spoil Simeon's bid for a fourth Class 4A championship in a row?
"We have a lot of great players," Okafor said. "I look forward to playing with Peak and Madison. I am expecting a breakout season from White. And I am expecting a breakout season from Reynolds, too, because he has more experience."
Okafor embraces the new roles that Slaughter has outlined for him--dominant defensive player and team leader.
"With this team, my points won't go up. That's OK as long as we're winning," he said. "I want to increase my rebounds to 15 or more per game and be more of a defensive presence under the boards. I want to be able to defend and help my teammates out by being more vocal and more of a shot-blocker.
"It's a new role for me, being the team leader. It won't be hard to adjust to being more vocal. It's easy to lead when everybody trusts each other. My approach? You have to be different to each player. Depending on the situation, sometimes you have to yell or pull them aside. The role is new for me but I'm learning as I go. I usually lead by example."
And nobody does it better.

Jalen Coleman-Lands reportedly transferring away from Illini

Jalen Coleman-Lands reportedly transferring away from Illini

The exodus out of Champaign continues, with Jalen Coleman-Lands reportedly the latest Illinois basketball player to leave the team in the aftermath of this spring's coaching change.

Coleman-Lands, perhaps the highest-rated recruit brought in during the John Grcoe Era, is set to transfer away from the program after two seasons with the Fighting Illini, per a report from Scout.com's Evan Daniels.

As a sophomore this past season, the sharpshooting Coleman-Lands played in all 35 of the team's games and started 15 of them. He averaged eight points a game and shot 38 percent from 3-point range.

Coleman-Lands was a big deal when he was recruited out of the state of Indiana. Landing a highly touted Hoosier has been an historic rarity for the Illini, but Coleman-Lands picked Groce's program over offers from Arizona, Indiana, Memphis, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue, UCLA, Vanderbilt and Xavier, among others. He was a four-star recruit and ranked by Rivals as one of the top 40 prospects in the Class of 2015.

While Coleman-Lands was at times electric from behind the arc, he wasn't always consistent, hence his moving in and out of the starting lineup.

Coleman-Lands' departure is the latest in a busy offseason of roster transformation for the Illini, something not too unexpected given the decision to fire Groce after a largely unsuccessful five-year tenure and replace him with Brad Underwood. While Underwood is earning rave reviews from outside critics and has already made a huge recruiting splash in luring Illinois' Mr. Basketball, Mark Smith, to the Illini, it's understandable that players who committed to Groce would want to rethink things.

D.J. Williams preceded Coleman-Lands in transferring out of Champaign. And half of the blockbuster recruiting class Groce assembled prior to his firing — four-star recruits Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett — opted to play elsewhere. All that on top of the team's three leading scorers from last season — Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and Tracy Abrams — exhausting their eligibility in Groce's final year.

Coleman-Lands' decision means Illinois will return just five scholarship players from last year's roster: Jaylon Tate, Kipper Nichols, Te'Jon Lucas, Leron Black and Michael Finke.

But there are reinforcements coming in Underwood's first season leading the program. Smith will be joined by a pair of freshman guards recruited by Groce: Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams. Plus, just Wednesday, the team announced the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who averaged 19 points a game last season.

Still, as is often the case with college basketball coaching changes, this is a dramatic evolution of a roster in just a couple of months.

And to top things off, Illinois fans might not even see Coleman-Lands leave the state. Internet chatter in recent days has mentioned that Coleman-Lands could be transferring to DePaul, where his high school coach was recently hired as one of Dave Leitao's assistants.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.