Young's Okafor rounding into form

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Young's Okafor rounding into form

How good is Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 sophomore center?

"He is the second best prospect in Illinois regardless of class behind (Simeon's) Jabari Parker," said Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"Actually, the gap between them is not all that great. Like Parker, Okafor is a certain one-and-done player in college and has a great chance to be a future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. We have not seen a current high school post player who is any better."

With 6-foot-9 junior Tommy Hamilton recovering from surgery to repair a torn patella and sidelined for at least four more weeks and 6-foot-9 sophomore Paul White still recovering from an injury and not performing up to expectations, the burden is on Okafor to carry the Dolphins as far as he can take them. And his shoulders are proving to be very strong indeed.

"When I look at today's game, there aren't any guys who want to play with their back to the basket and go into the post," said Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "(Okafor) wants to be a pure post player. He isn't interested in shooting from the outside. He wants to play with his back to the basket. He is a player that one man can't defend.

"Remember, he is only 16. He has established a great body of work at a young age. He has a great upside. He will impact the high school game in ways no other player has in this state. After four years, we will say he not only is a great offensive player but a complete all-around player."

"Okafor is consistently dominant in the paint and is impossible to move on the block," Roy Schmidt said. "He simply overpowers all of his competition. He is already more advanced and has more maturity than most centers at the college level. There is no question that the sky is the limit."

After observing Okafor for the first time at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina -- he had 23 points and seven rebounds in the first half of one game -- longtime recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports was impressed. But he still had some reservations.

"He is very advanced offensively for a young player. He is strong, big, rebounds and does it all," Gibbons said. "But he isn't a great athlete. He has size and strength and uses it well for a sophomore. But I don't know if he'll be one of the all-time greats."

Another longtime recruiting analyst, Dave Telep of ESPN, described Okafor as "the next Jared Sullinger," comparing him favorably to the Ohio State star who is a leading candidate for National Player of the Year recognition in 2012.

Slaughter believes Okafor could emerge as the best big man ever produced in Illinois, better than NBA lottery pick Eddy Curry of Thornwood and Rashard Griffith of King. "Curry and Griffith were not at his level of offense at the same time in their development," Slaughter said.

At the moment, however, Okafor is all about potential. He is a 16-year-old sophomore who isn't in the best of shape, doesn't run the floor well, hasn't learned to face the basket and must develop in several areas in the next two years before he can be compared to 6-10 Russell Cross, the former Manley star who probably was the most dominating and intimidating big man ever produced in Illinois.

Cross was an All-Stater in 1979 and 1980. He led Manley to the state quarterfinals in 1979 and to the state championship in 1980. He starred for three years at Purdue, then opted for the NBA and was the sixth overall pick in the 1983 draft by the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered in high school that never fully healed eventually limited his NBA career to only one season.

The state has never produced another player like Cross, before or since. He was tall, long, mobile and agile, a great rebounder and shot blocker and defender, a high school version of Bill Russell without any exaggeration. At this time, Okafor doesn't resemble Cross in any way, shape for form.

"(Okafor) has become a better rebounder this year," Slaughter said. "Defense will come with more work. And better conditioning, too. Will he be the defensive player that Cross was? Will he be as good as Anthony Davis (the Kentucky freshman from Chicago Perspective)? I believe in the next two years he will be a phenomenal defensive player."

In fairness, Okafor and his Whitney Young team are competing against what is arguably the toughest schedule of any high school in the country. The brand of competition can't help but to improve his skills, bolster his motivation and inspire his resolve.

Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com rates Okafor as the No. 2 player in the class of 2014 behind 6-foot-7 Andrew Wiggins, a Canadian-born wingman who attends a prep school in Huntington, West Virginia.

Okafor claims his recruiting is wide open, that he isn't close to making a decision, that he is enjoying the process and plans to take full advantage of his opportunities to evaluate colleges, their coaches and programs and campuses. He already has made unofficial visits to several schools, including Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State and Illinois.

He has several scholarship offers from major Division I schools but his father denies a published report that his son is "most impressed" with Arizona, Duke, Illinois and Michigan State. It is much too early, his father insists, to disregard Ohio State, Georgetown, Connecticut, Iowa, Arkansas, Purdue, Tennessee, Missouri and DePaul.

And what about four perennial national powers that are on his wish list but haven't offered scholarships yet--Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse? Each has talked to Slaughter and expressed interest in recruiting Okafor.

Look for Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse to leap into the Okafor sweepstakes. Each has talked to his coach and expressed interest in recruiting him. But they haven't offered yet. Okafor did make an unofficial visit to the North Carolina campus.

Okafor also has talked to Kentucky freshman star Anthony Davis and would like to be in a position to consider Kentucky. "I'm a big fan of Kentucky. I really like what they have to offer. But I haven't heard from them," he said. However, some critics doubt Okafor could be effective in the dribble-drive offense that coach John Calipari employs.

What else do you need to know about Okafor?

He is a distant cousin of Emeka Okafor, the former Connecticut star and 2004 Olympian who currently plays for the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA.

He was a member of the gold medal-winning USA Under-16 national team that won the FIBA Americas championship and qualified for the Under-17 FIBA world championship in 2012.

He plays the tuba.

His favorite basketball announcer is Dick Vitale.

Well, nobody said he was perfect.

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

In a season where the triple-double has become commonplace to the point of stat chasing in the effort to chase history, Dwyane Wade didn't mind snatching his own piece of turf.

In a game where teammate Jimmy Butler reached the feat for the first time this season, it would've been doubly satisfactory for Wade to achieve the fifth triple-double of his career.

One rebound away in the final seconds of the Bulls' 117-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the memo didn't reach Cristiano Felicio, who reached over Wade to grab a rebound, causing it to harmlessly fall out of bounds and ending Wade's chance at history.

After Wade finished with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes, he was asked if he "hated" Felicio for interrupting his moment.

"No hate. Just a strong dislike, though," said Wade with a wry smile. "You know how long it's been since I had a triple double? It's been a long time."

It's been six years, as his last triple-double came in the 2010-11 season with the Miami Heat, achieving the feat with a 22-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist performance against the then-Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 4, 2011.

Even more than the statistical feat was Wade's variety, as he grabbed seven rebounds in the decisive third-quarter run that broke the game open, hitting Butler and Bobby Portis for long touchdown passes that would've had Jay Cutler or whichever quarterback the Cleveland Browns are banking on next fall, blushing.

Perhaps even more impressive was the fact it was on the second night of a back-to-back with the Bulls winning in overtime against the Phoenix Suns—a game where Wade turned it up late then threw it down over Alex Len in overtime.

"I think we just found our groove," Wade said. "We've had some injuries that have gone on but we're playing good basketball."

More pointedly, so is Wade, aided by him often finding Felicio for easy dunks on the pick and roll as they play second and fourth quarters together. 

Felicio was clearly bothered by his gaffe, which was made worse by the take-no-prisoners approach from Wade and Butler. When a member of foreign media approached him about an interview, Felicio said "you're not asking me about that last rebound, are you?"

Later in the evening, Felicio went to Twitter, posting "I did not know!!" in reference to Wade's night.

"I told him I didn't not even gonna act like I ain't mad at him. I'm very mad at him," said Wade with a laugh. "But he's all good. He said he didn't see me down there. So he took a shot at my height. It's cool. Jimmy had one. It would've been nice to have two triple doubles."

"I'm sure a stat would've came out that would've said, ‘Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler are the first duo to get a triple-double on a back-to-back since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen', since they got every record around here."

He was close, although Jordan and Pippen didn't achieve their feat on a back-to-back but a random night in the 1988-89 season. Jordan scored 41 with 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Pippen had 15 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 126-121 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"We laugh about that often, but it's all good," Wade said. "I gotta work harder till I get another one one day."

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