Today’s Profile is by Rowan Shiell
One constant among teams that play in Final Fours is a “Big” that can take care of business on both ends of the court. Sure there are exceptions because quality big men are few and far between, but that’s what Brian Zoubek brought to Duke in 2010, Anthony Davis for Kentucky in 2012, Greg Oden for Ohio State in 2006, and Kevin Love in 2008.
Except for Zoubek, a late developer, all these guys were ranked at the top of their recruiting classes. As a matter of fact, ever since Dwight Howard went straight to the NBA in 2004, and thereafter the “one-and-done” rule was implemented, every big man that was ranked first in his class played in a Final Four except one – Nerlens Noel, who got injured, to be fair.
That’s why expectations are so high with Jahil Okafor’s enrollment at Duke for the coming season. He has all the accolades: Illinois “Mr. Basketball,” Parade National Player of the Year, McDonald’s All American, ESPN Top Recruit among others, and now CBS has named him their Preseason Player of the Year. It may be premature hyping a Freshman such as Okafor, but he is totally OK with it. He seems to embrace the pressure.
“When I step on the court, it really doesn’t matter if I’m a freshman or a senior,” Okafor told CBS. “It’s basketball, and I’ve been playing basketball my entire life. So, I feel extremely confident about going out there and playing against anybody and feeling unstoppable and being just as dominant as I have been in my previous years of playing basketball. So somebody saying I can’t [be National Player of the Year] because I’m a Freshman is kinda ludicrous to me.”
If this was any other player we would point out that “… playing basketball his entire life …” isn’t necessarily a requisite to succeed in college basketball, but when you add Okafor’s physical attributes and talent to the equation, then we can see why this freshman is so confident.
He is 6’10” with a great touch around the basket. Think of a bigger, stronger Jared Sullinger, who was dominant from Day One at Ohio State, except that Coach Krzyzewski doesn’t think there is any comparison to his prized freshman, at least not in the coming season.
“With Jah, you’ll see,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s good, and he’s been accepted pretty much right away [by his teammates] … because there’s nobody like him. There’s no comp.”
Zagsblog took exception to this, pointing out Kentucky’s Karl Anthony Towns, Cliff Alexander who is at Kansas and Myles Turner at Texas as being on the same level as Okafor. They also quoted an anonymous NBA Scout who thinks that Coach K wants to compete with John Calipari in recruiting, and because he can’t get as many recruits as Kentucky does, so he goes full throttle in promoting the ones that do attend Duke, however at the end of all that the Scout agreed that Okafor is indeed a unique talent among his peers.
This is college basketball and every team tries to get the best recruits, so this isn’t exactly a personal battle between Coach Krzyzewski and Coach Calipari. More likely, Coach Krzyzewski is trying to motivate Okafor, after all, the better the Freshman does, the better it will be for Duke. As he pointed out earlier, no one has higher hopes for Okafor than Okafor. You can’t put any additional pressure, nor promote someone any further, if they are the #1 recruit !
With Duke’s propensity to shoot the Three Pointer, Okafor brings some much needed balance to the Blue Devils with his inside play. Duke has waited a long time for a player like Okafor’s calibre, so, if the team chemistry is right, the coming season will definitely be one to watch.