Jahlil Okafor is a 6'-9" center from Whitney Young High School who has a tremendous combination of size and skill level for a freshman. The class of 2014 star has a chance to be a truly special player. Okafor has a long list of schools showing interest, but says he likes what he sees out of Illinois.
"They would rank toward the top. I like Illinois."
What is the biggest factor drawing the big man to the Illini program?
"It is my home town school."
Okafor is not really concerning himself with recruiting at this point in the process. He has been focusing on his high school season and getting better. Okafor has not been in direct contact with the Illini since the beginning of the season.
"The last time I was in contact with them was when I went to their Midnight Madness."
He is no rush to make a decision as he plans to hold off until his senior year to decide which program he will bring his talents to. This has not stopped powers from across the nation to start the recruiting process at an early age. Okafor talked about the schools that are showing interest."Illinois, DePaul, Ohio State, Wisconsin, UConn, Michigan State."
The Whitney Young center currently holds three offers including two in the Big 10.
"My three offers are from Illinois, Depaul, and Michigan State."
Okafor played for one of the most talented teams in the state of Illinois, with double digit potential Division I players. He played limited minutes on varsity but views his freshman campaign as a success.
"It was pretty good. My freshman year went well. It didn't go as good as I planned. We didn't win the championship, but I have three more years. It makes me hungrier for next year."
How did he think he played in his first year at Whitney Young?
"I think I played well. They needed me to rebound. I thought I did a pretty good job of that."
The big man did get a city championship at the sophomore level, teaming up with fellow Illini target Paul White for a successful season. Okafor likes playing with his friend.
"Playing with Paul is great. He is like my brother. I played AAU with him in 8th grade, so playing with him was nothing new."
Another major plus for him was being able to go up against Tommy Hamilton, the top center in the class of 2013 nationally, every day.
"Playing with Tommy was great. I think I got a lot better this year practicing and scrimmaging against him. That definitely made me better."
The step from 8th grade to varsity basketball is a huge one. It is a learning experience, one where a player can see what he needs to improve on. Okafor addressed one of the concerns some had for him coming out of grade school.
"I improved on my conditioning and staying in shape."
Okafor will be participating in the prestigious USA Basketball Developmental Mini-Camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 10-18. He will be competing for a spot on the USA 16 And Under team that will be playing for the country against international competition in Mexico late July. He is looking forward to the experience.
"I am excited to go down there and have the experience to play against other top players in the country."
The other main focus on his agenda for the spring and summer is playing with the 16U Mac Irvin Fire. He asserted his dominance in the first game of the season with the Fire like a top player should.
His body is in better condition than when last observed. He is losing the bad weight and putting on more strength. Okafor is running the floor hard and finishing in transition. His post game is elite at such a young age. He has great footwork and ability to score with either his back to the basket or facing up.
When his back is to the basket, he uses his body to advantage, pushing his man back and scoring over him with a jump hook or quick turnaround. When facing up, he can take his man off the dribble and get to the hoop or shoot a 15 foot jump shot, which he is continuing to work on.
Defensively, he rebounds at a high rate and clogs up the lane for penetration and opposing post players. He has nice length which also helps him on defense.
There is no doubt Okafor is the real deal and is the top prospect in the class of 2014 in the state of Illinois and under consideration for the same position nationally. He kicked off the AAU season with a bang and will look to continue through July. Illinois will be following him intently.