For a big kid — and at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, "big" is a serious understatement —
Whitney Young (Chicago)
senior Jahlil Okafor
is particularly skilled and nimble.
That's why many NBA draft boards already have him pegged as the No. 1 selection in the 2015 draft.
His vision and ability to see the whole floor are other important traits, which was a big reason he won the
McDonald's Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year award on Tuesday
Okafor sees the big picture in the scheme of life.
He made that abundantly clear after receiving the award, a season after fellow Chicago native Jabari Parker earned it. The two are good friends and though they played at rival high schools — Parker went to Simeon (Chicago)
— they teamed together on the AAU circuit.
In the fall, Okafor, a 3.5 student, is headed to Duke, where Parker just completed his freshman season.
"To win the (Morgan) Wootten award means so much more to me because it's just as much about character as it is about basketball," Okafor said by phone. "That makes it meaningful for me and my family who raised me."
Having back-to-back Chicagoans was also meaningful to Okafor, who averaged 26.7 points and 13.2 rebounds per game for the Dolphins, who finished 31-5, won the state 4A title and is No. 13 in the Xcellent 25 national rankings
"Anything to shed a positive light on Chicago is a great thing," he said. "Considering some of the violence we suffer through and that is publicized, I feel good that Jabari and I can shed that positive image."
MaxPreps National Basketball Editor Jason Hickman said Okafor always passes off a positive image. That's not easy when high-profile recruits are inundated with calls from reporters, media members and college coaches. That is when, Hickman said, Okafor shines brightest.
"As much as his skill or talent, his grace and maturity in handling the recruiting process and media is the thing that stands out to me the most about Jahlil," Hickman said. "He's the nation's No. 1 recruit by some and was MVP of the U17 World Championship two summers ago. He has every reason to have an inflated ego at this point in his life but not once has there ever been a glimpse of that."
Okafor said he's looking forward to playing with his future Duke teammate, Grayson Allen
of Providence (Jacksonville, Fla.)
at the McDonald's game for the West. He'll also be playing against Tyus Jones
of Apple Valley (Minn.)
and Justise Winslow
of St. John's (Houston)
, more future Blue Devils.
Asked if splitting the Blue Devils up will be a little awkward, Okafor said: "No, not at all. It's just exciting. We have plenty of time to be on the same side."
Asked what he's most excited about during the five-day event, finished off with the April 2 game at the United Center in Chicago, Okafor said: "Probably going to the McDonald's House to see the kids. To make a positive impact on someone's life is really what it's all about."
Playing the game against the nation's best will be fun too, Okafor said. He's played the game since he can remember, but also had runs of volleyball, soccer, softball and tennis.
To imagine Okafor spiking – or would that be deflating? – a volleyball, or crushing a tennis ball are interesting images.
"I wasn't very competitive at any of them," he said. "It was pretty much just for fun."
Asked what he loves most about basketball, Okafor said: "I just love getting away from things. You can forget it all when you're on the court. You can take your frustrations out and just play hard."
He's looking forward to playing at the next level, especially getting to Duke.
He can thank Parker partially for making that decision, but he maintains that Parker didn't pressure him at all.
"He told me to use him as a recruiting tool and I did," Okafor said. "I must have asked him hundreds of questions and he was always real honest. The main thing he told me is go somewhere where I would enjoy myself and be happy."
Okafor has returned the favor to Parker, who is debating whether to enter the NBA Draft or go back for his sophomore season. Most believe it's a done deal because Parker appears a lock to be one of the top three picks, if he comes out.
"I just repeat to him, what he told me," Okafor said. "Sure, I would love him to come back and we play together. But he's got to be happy and if that's the NBA next year, good for him."