For at least some period of time, the top spot in the Class of 2014 appeared up for grabs. Along with our choice, Jahlil Okafor, his close friend Tyus Jones, Emmanuel Mudiay and others have challenged for the apex position.
And you don't necessarily need to read this evaluation to learn why Okafor has won out. By my count this will be his 93rd story to appear on the Scout.com network, and expect that number to cross into triple digit territory by the conclusion of his senior campaign.
Okafor was earmarked for stardom from the beginning. He made national waves as a rising freshman, using his 6-8 height and solid frame to become one of Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young's most productive players in summer play. He also managed to maintain his share of attention despite sharing the Windy City spotlight with 2013 sensation Jabari Parker.
Before the clock struck Midnight on January 1, 2011, Okafor already had collected scholarship offers from Michigan State, DePaul and Illinois.
He didn't stand out statistically as a freshman but became an assertive force as a rising sophomore on the travel circuit. Playing up with the Mac Irvin Fire 16-under club, he demonstrated a highly advanced scoring arsenal for such a young big man.
His offers expanded to a degree that precludes any meaning. If you were a college coach armed with nothing more than a smile and a prayer, it was worth tossing one his way.
But the situation took on a unique hue very early. Okafor wanted to enter college with a personally selected point guard — an Eddie Perez to his Greg Maddux — and in stepped Jones. The Minnesota floor general was no slouch, obviously, and that duo's shared loyalty increased over the coming years.
In the meantime, Okafor kept growing both physically and in terms of skills. He topped out at 6-11, approximately 260 pounds (depending on the day), and he continued his assault upon national competition.
While his low post scoring tools continued to impress, it was his blossoming quickness that surprised observers during 2012. A rising junior teaming with Parker for the Fire, Okafor at times dominated entire games versus players a full year older.
His junior season was superlative. He scored 34 points in a contest at the Chicago Elite Classic, just one game in which he relegated his opponents to secondary status. Though not overwhelming at the City of Palms Classic, he averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds versus elite competition.
An ankle injury hampered him this past spring, but he used that time to cut his list to eight finalists: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State.
He resurfaced during the summer to grow roots atop the class. His game has expanded to a level now that effectively has ended the conversation about No. 1, and the dialogue now has evolved into (sometimes ridiculous) comparisons to NBA players.
His recruitment continued to trend along with that of Jones, and the two conducted quasi-coordinated visit schedules this fall in advance of their decision. Okafor said there's a chance they'd split, but in November they both indeed committed to Duke.
What's not to like? Okafor can be a Hyde but typically operates as a Jekyll, a true center who can exact competitive annihilation on the basis of his physique and great hands, but whose game includes so much more.
He catches everything inside and utilizes polished, intelligent post moves to score at will. He's too big for defenders to deny point-blank position, but even in suboptimal space he delivers via jump hooks, drop steps and turnaround jumpers. But despite the finesse, his body and game imply brutality. A threatening shoulder precedes a skillful play inside — a Rottweiler wearing a tuxedo is still a Rottweiler — and his dual identity frustrates and demoralizes defenses.
Along with his scoring talent, Okafor also is a fine interior passer. He gets plenty of practice versus double- and triple-teams, and when he can't score he has learned to distribute effectively to teammates who frequently are wide open. It's that ability to command attention and then deliver with great efficiency that secures his place at No. 1.
His rebounding is solid, if not spectacular, and he should develop into a tough post defender as well. His lateral quickness has improved, and thus he won't be a liability versus the more perimeter-oriented big men he'll likely face in the NBA.
Along with all that, he's a sturdy competitor who doesn't exude overconfidence or neglect the little things. His willingness to be coached ranks among his most impressive qualities.
There's not a ton to enter into this section, but here we are. For one thing, Okafor doesn't possess elite straight-up leaping ability. That's not going to trouble him during what's likely to be his one season in college, but NBA big men may prevent him from releasing his shot in traffic consistently.
He also isn't tremendously quick off the floor, limiting him as a shotblocker and offensive, out-of-area rebounder.
Let the comparisons fly. You'll see A-B attempts made to Tim Duncan, and though patently absurd due to Duncan's legacy within basketball history, the temptation is understandable.
For now, suffice it to say that Okafor has the size and tools to achieve stardom at the highest level of the sport. Whether he's explosive enough to become a true franchise player does pose a valid question, but for college, anyway, he's about as close to a sure thing as you'll find.