One on one with Jahlil Okafor

He's the top post prospect in the class of 2014 and, subsequently, on Duke's recruiting board. On Wednesday night, Illinois standout Jahlil Okafor sat down with TDD to update his recruitment, his summer and fall plans, and much more.

Are you looking forward to the Peach Jam? Do you already know who you are matching up against yet?

Jahlil Okafor: Yeah, I know we are playing Howard Pulley tomorrow, so I'll be playing against Tyus Jones.

Will that be a strange deal to play against him considering you are Team USA teammates?

Oh no, that won't be'll be real fun. We've only played each once before in like third grade and then in practices for Team USA.

How did you guys become such good friends?

I think it's just because we have so much in common. We are both serious basketball players, and it's our main goal to be great players and win. We're just really good friends, we travel a lot together.

Are you good friends with each other's families as well?

Oh yeah, our families are real close too. His little brother is like my little brother and our parents know each other well. His mom is always taking care of me if I need anything. Like when I was in Lithuania, my dad wasn't able to be there, so his mom took care of me, got me some stuff I needed.

Having traveled multiple times now for Team USA, how do you take to the traveling?

It was amazing. First of all, getting to be with those 11 other guys, representing our country, we just had each other to hang around with, and in practice I just got a whole lot better because I was playing against 11 of the best players in the country. Playing against BeeJay Anya and the other bigs in practice everyday, I really improved a lot. Overall it was a lot of fun, just getting to hang out with those guys off the court.

Talking with Justise Winslow recently, he mentioned that he felt that his friendship with you and Tyus really grew on that trip. How did you get to know him better?

We always see each other around at events, but that was the first time where me, Tyus and Justise were around each other like all the time. Like wherever we were, in the room, didn't matter, it was always us three. We just had so much in common and we had so much fun together.

What was it like for you getting the opportunity to go out to Vegas right after you got back from Lithuania and meet the US National Olympic Team?

Oh, that was unreal, we got to have a meeting with them! Like with Coach K, LeBron, Kevin Durant, Carmelo, Chris Paul, Kobe, all those guys, we got to hear them speak about playing for Team USA and how proud they were, it was just unreal.

Were you getting to interact with them?

We were in the meeting room before they were, then Coach K and the whole team came in and Coach K actually introduced us to the whole team and told them about us winning the gold medal. Then all the NBA players gave us a big round of applause. After that we just got sit in and watch their regular meeting. They were doing film, they went over film from the 08 team about their defense, then they went over about having pride as an American representing your country. Then they brought in this person, a service member, who serves our country and who lost his sight while serving our country.

Not many people get a chance to be a part of something like that, how did you react to experiencing that?

I just think it made us even more closer as a team because we realized that there is a very select few who get to wear the USA jersey and how we cherished what we did as a team.

How much interaction did you have with Coach K while you were there?

He made time for us. It wasn't just me, it was all of us and he was telling us how great a thing it was what we did as a team winning the gold medal, it was a huge deal to talk with him.

What's your reaction to seeing him coach the NBA guys?

It's pretty much like seeing him on TV. He'll let you know if you are doing something wrong. It was amazing to see him stop practice and point out to like Kobe and LeBron when they were doing things wrong or right, it was amazing to see him coach.

Have you had a lot of communication with Coach K prior to this meeting?

Yeah, I've spoken with him several times before, he's offered me a scholarship, I've spoken with him several times.

When you've spoken outside of Team USA stuff, what kind of stuff did you and him speak about?

The program, how I would fit in, he's given me advice on things I can do to get better as a player, and he's also talked with me about Team USA and to make sure I help bring the gold medal back before I came out to Vegas with the team.

What's your reaction when you receive the advise like that from him on how to get better?

It's definitely something that's going to help you get better. When Coach K says something to you, you definitely try to add that into your game because he's coached so many great players, and you've got to listen to him if you want to get better as a player.

He's a legendary coach, but when you talk with him, he makes you want to be coachable and when you talk with him, he's just so laid back. When you see him on TV and you see him screaming at his players, but then off the court he switches it on and off.

Having had so many offers that came your way at such a young age from top flight schools, how do you evaluate the new offers as they come in versus the ones you've had for awhile?

I definitely appreciate the schools that offered me early, that's for sure, but it's not the sole determining factor in my decision when a school offers. We will look at schools who are offering me more recently and especially my dad, he'll be like, "what took so long"  or why are they just offering me ?

Do you have all the school offers that you were hoping to have prior to all the offers coming in or are you still waiting on some schools to step up with firm offers?

I'm pretty much good with what I have. I've got all the offers I was hoping to get, I don't really look at schools that haven't offered me.

Before the interest exploded, what were the schools you were hoping to get scholarship offers from?

Yeah, like when you are in junior high, you hoped to get an offer from like Syracuse, Kentucky, and top schools like that. But once you get into high school and you start talking with your coaches, you start being able to see better what schools are a good fit for you and what schools may not be a good fit.

What changed then when you got into high school in terms of offers you were hoping to get?

I think what changed was that schools that I grew up watching and hoping for an offer, some of those schools looking at them now, may not be the best situation for me.

What do you mean by a good "situation" around you? Can you elaborate?

Just like the players that are around you, schools that already have some players there but I'd still be able to have guys come with me, that's a big thing. Academically it's important as well. My parents and I stress this how good are the academics at schools. Relationship with the coaching staff is also a huge deal, I want to go to college already having a good relationship with them.

Are there coaches that you've really strengthened your relationship with them since the new rules kicked in with texting and phone calls?

I definitely would say there have been some coaches I've done that with, I've been able to ask a lot of questions to them as I have them.

Can you share which coaches those are?

Yeah, for sure it's been the Ohio State coaches. I've had a lot of contact with them, the Michigan State coaches, Duke, Georgetown, schools like that.

How do you balance coaches telling you "these are the things you can do for us and help the team win" versus things that you are hoping to do in college?

That is possibly a conflict, but I really haven't come across that yet in any way in talking with them.

Paint touches are really important by and large to bigs, are you evaluating schools based on that and whether the offense will be designed around you, or do you evaluate things differently?

That's something I will be looking at because I'm a player who wants to be involved in the offense. I'm confident in my skills and the ability to make plays, so I will be looking at what kind of touches are there and what kind of post offense they run with their bigs.

What's more important to you, seeing a clear past track record of bigs in the program getting developed and drafted, or hearing the coaches describe to you how they will utilize your unique skill set within their current offense?

I definitely will be looking at the current situation for bigs in team's offenses because some colleges, they haven't had a big like me a lot in the past. Because of that, it's hard to just look at past stuff, you have to look at right now too.

Ohio State is a school with a big reputation for having bigs that have gone on to the NBA. What are your thoughts on them as a program, and your perception about your possible fit and role with that team?

They obviously have had Jared Sullinger who was a really good big who could have gone really high in the draft last year if he came out. He was obviously a good player and they also had Greg Oden who was a high lottery pick, so I definitely see a process they have and they know how to develop bigs.

Is it more important for you just to see a team with a track record of having bigs drafted in lottery and 1st round, or is it more important to hear coaches describe to you about the things they have done to develop the bigs in their program?

I think both go hand in hand. If they improve a lot while in school that's good, but it's also good when you see them send bigs and get drafted in the top 10, it's an eye opener if you see that.

What are your thought process when it comes to Duke since they have recruited you for awhile now? What's your perception on how they utilize their bigs?

I like Duke a lot, I don't feel like they've had a big like me in a while, and yet but they definitely have had some really amazing bigs come through their program. A lot of people say they don't really utilize their bigs or utilize them the way they should, but I think they just need the right kind of big man there. If I were to go there, with all the shooters they have, they wouldn't really be able to double me and I could see myself being very effective in their offense. It doesn't really matter to me that they haven't had a big like me in awhile because Coach K is an amazing coach and I can trust him.

You've visited North Carolina previously. How much communication have you had with Coach Williams and his staff?

Oh well, they have offered me before, I've heard from them a couple of times but I don't really hear from them often. They offered me, they've been at some games, but since the open period started, they just haven't really texted me or called me all that much.

Any explanation as to that approach?

No, they haven't said anything.

What's your thoughts on how Carolina uses their bigs?

I think they are also a school that uses their bigs well. Some people's perspective is that they utilize their bigs a lot better unlike Duke does, but to me, it's just a matter of the players they have had versus the players Duke has had.

How are things progressing with Arizona since your visit there?

Yeah, Arizona was really nice, I had a great time on my visit there, I'm still talking with them.

How about with Kansas and Kentucky? How much communication have you had with with Coach Self and Coach Calipari and have either offered?

No, neither has offered, I think they have called my high school coach, but I haven't spoken with either one of them.

If they were to step up and increase their interest by offering, does that merit them serious interest in your mind?

It wouldn't be too late, and I don't have any favorites. I don't want to mistake anybody into thinking that I've got favorites, I really don't yet.

How about with Michigan State? How much communication has there been,what's your interest level?

I definitely like Michigan State a lot. We've talked a great amount. I love Coach Izzo, it would be great to play for him, he's another one of those legendary coaches, it'd be great to play for them.

The relationship between you and Tyus Jones, are there schools that you and him are seriously evaluating to possibly play together at?

We definitely feel like we could play together. It's really a matter of what schools are reaching out to the both of us together. We do talk a lot about which coaches have reached out to us to see which schools are recruiting the both of us.

Do you look at your recruitment as unique from Tyus' or do you view very much as a package deal where you both know, 100%, that you are going to look to play together in college?

We look at it together because we both know that we want to go together in college and we'll tell coaches about that too.

What are the reasons why you guys are so committed on wanting to play together?

It's hard to explain, really. We're just like best friends, I talk with him everyday, we always enjoy spending time together off the court and when we play, we know where each other will be. We just think it would be really fun to play together in college, and we really want to go to a place where we can win a national championship.

Talking with Justise Winslow the other day, the topic of playing together with you and Tyus came up. Is that something that you guys are talking more about now that you've gotten to know him a lot better?

Yeah, we've both thought about it, and we've actually teased him a little bit. We were like "you should join us so that we could be our own Big Three". We definitely want him to do what's best for him but we have told him we would really like it if we could all three play together.

He mentioned that Duke had offered him recently. What are your thoughts on Justise getting the Duke offer like you and Tyus have had already?

I'm real happy for him, I remember him telling me he was expecting to get the offer, so when he got it, it was great. He deserved the offer and it was really great to see that Duke was the first school to offer all three of us. We haven't verified yet if all three of us could go there, but it's good they were the first.

How much does the depth chart play into your consideration?

For me it really doesn't matter if they have big men already there. I think it'd be a good challenge for me to play against other bigs in practice, but for me, I'd have to know what my role would be on a team.

Do you think you'll do your visits independently of Tyus' visits, or will you look to do visits together to schools at same time?

We've already done some visits on our own to schools, so we are hopefully looking to take some visits together to the same schools. We don't know yet which schools we want to visit though. We haven't thought much yet about visits yet.

Do you consider yourself a one and done guy?

I'm not sure,that's my dream for sure to go pro, but it doesn't matter how many years it takes me to get there.

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