Calipari watches Chicago junior work out

Kentucky coach John Calipari was among first to show in Chicago when five-star junior center Jahlil Okafor was able to play in open gym.

John Calipari's name has popped up all over the map the last two weeks in a series of in-home and school visits with the nation's top basketball prospects.

One place he hadn't been spotted, however, was Chicago, which was in the grips of a teachers strike that prevented college coaches from seeing juniors work out at their schools.

That changed Wednesday as the work stoppage ended and the school doors were re-opened. On cue, Calipari was en route to the Windy City to see elite junior center Jahlil Okafor.

"Word got out organically Tuesday night that we were going to have our first open gym, and Kentucky was one of the schools that found a way to get here on short notice," said Whitney Young Magnet School coach Tyrone Slaughter. Coaches from Georgetown, UIC and Michigan State were also on hand for the pick-up games.

Asked what that says about UK's level of interest in his star big man, Slaughter replied: "I think the message is pretty simple and clear -- they want him in their program. The interest is legit, not a passing thing."

Until Wednesday, it was a bit unclear exactly where Okafor (6-10, 270) was on UK's recruiting board for 2014. The Cats had extended a handful of scholarship offers in that class late this summer, but he was not one of them. Now he is.

"Coach Calipari offered him a scholarship and told him how much he'd like to coach him," Slaughter said. "They had a really nice conversation with him and his dad about his future and what they could do to help him develop and reach his goals."

And how was that message received?

"Jahlil was happy to hear it," Slaughter said. "They're the national champs, they've played in a bunch of Final Fours, and they've had some great players come through their program. I know he appreciates being recruited by a school like Kentucky."

Slaughter said he would expect Okafor to take an unofficial visit to UK at some point this fall in light of the scholarship offer.

Okafor is currently rated the No. 1 center in the Class of 2014 and No. 4 overall. In addition to UK and the other schools who watched him work out this week, he's also hearing from major programs like Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas State, Arkansas and DePaul.

"He's what I like to call a throwback center," Slaughter said. "He's a big guy who likes to play down low with his back to the basket. There aren't many of those around these days, but Jahlil takes a lot of pride in it.

"He got to play in some open gym this summer with a guy I'm sure you folks down in Kentucky know about, Enes Kanter. We have a lot of opportunities for kids to play against some NBA players who are either from this area or come through to work out with other players. Jahlil held his own against those guys. The sky is the limit with him."

Added Scout national basketball analyst Evan Daniels: "Okafor is arguably the best post scorer in high school basketball. He's efficient on the block and has an array of post moves. He's consistent with his effort and always owns his area rebounding-wise."

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