It’s official. Jahlil Okafor is headed to Duke.
The Rivals.com No. 1 prospect ended months of speculation and chatter when he announced he would sign with the Blue Devils Friday afternoon, choosing Duke over Arizona, Baylor, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State. Okafor made his decision live on ESPNU from his Chicago high school, Whitney Young.
The high school gymnasium was packed to the brim with his fellow students, local and national media, and of course his family -- all of whom were seated next to him. And even for a young athlete on the rise -- who has played in countless sold out arenas before -- the feeling of support was overwhelming for Okafor as he took the podium to address the crowd after making the official announcement. Panning the audience, he became very emotional as he began to thank his support system which included the student body, Dr. Joyce Kenner [Principal of Whitney Young], head coach Ty Slaughter, his family, and his mom who unfortunately passed when he was only a youngster. He went on to thank head coach Mike Krzyzewski for extending him the opportunity to play at such a prestigious university and made it a point to mention he was the reason why he chose the Blue Devils in the end.
“It was Coach K in all honesty. He is the most winningest coach in basketball history and the most important thing to me is winning,” Okafor said. “I think I felt most comfortable with him helping me win a National Championship with Tyus [Jones] and on a personal note I would like to help him get his 1000th victory. So I think that was the tipping point of the scale for me.”
Okafor is dubbed as the top post scorer in the 2014 class and acknowledged it is important to any big man to have a heady floor general with the ability to feed him in the paint. And the only floor general he had in mind was best friend and Team USA teammate Tyus Jones -- a top Minnesota point guard who simultaneously committed to Duke as well.
“I’ve known Tyus since I was in third grade. We played against each other in Orlando, Florida for Nationals. I beat him in the Elite Eight which I often brag about and we rekindled our friendship my freshman year playing with USA Basketball. We went overseas to Mexico and won the Gold Medal and we also did the same thing in Lithuania the following year so we just want the opportunity to win and I think us together will give us the best chance to win. That was the main thing of us wanting to go to the same university. He is like my best friend; he is like a brother to me. And if you take basketball out of the equation, that is still somebody I would like to college with.”
Jones agreed saying, “this has been our goal and dream for the past two plus years so we were set in stone on going to school together. We planned on making that happen.”
Next fall the two newly-signed recruits will hopefully join Chicago native and former No. 1 prospect Jabari Parker who returned home on November 12 to take on Kansas at the United Center where they unfortunately fell to the Jayhawks 94-83.
“I enjoyed watching Jabari. I think he played terrific,” Okafor said paying tribute to Parker’s 27-point night. “I enjoyed watching Andrew [Wiggins], Wayne Selden, even Joel Embiid from Kansas. I just enjoyed watching that whole game and just being a fan of basketball that night.”
And despite perhaps already knowing he would be attending Duke next year, Okafor remained neutral as he watched the game from the stands, opting to cheer for both teams.
“I was actually pretty neutral. I was cheering for Jabari pretty much because he is from Chicago and he is one of my good friends. But I was pretty neutral. I was cheering for Andrew too because like I said I have a good relationship with players on both of those teams so it wasn’t hard. I wasn’t holding back any applause or anything like that,” Okafor said.
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Primarily known for his soft touch around the rim and a host of scoring moves in the post, Okafor took the summer to develop a solid mid-range game making him a pesky defensive matchup. His size and strength give him the ability to create room in the paint but it’s his high basketball IQ that allows him to establish great position above the low-post block. He is also a game-changer on the defensive end, making significant contributions on the boards.
His talents coupled with Coach K’s ability to develop solid players and propel them to the league, Okafor is on a path filled with nothing but success.
Stay tuned. Duke will be a team to watch next year.