Learn the name Jahlil Okafor — he could be the 2015 NBA Draft No. 1 overall pick. He’s the guy on top of a lot of boards right now and is top 5 on everyone’s list.
We’re 22 months away from that draft and there is no way to say that a guy just entering his senior year at Whitney Young High School in Chicago is some kind of lock to be the top pick — but he is impressive.
I watched the cousin of Emeka Okafor for the first time in person at the adidas Nations championship game Monday night in Long Beach. There is a lot to like — he is 6’10” with a big frame who showed a back-to-the-basket game, the ability to play through contact in the paint, good footwork, a host of moves (jump hooks, spin moves), the ability to face up and drive, he showed off some real skills putting up 14 points and 8 boards.
His coach, former NBA big man and basketball Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson, says he is just scratching the surface.
“He’s a puppy,” Sampson told ProBasketballTalk. “The big boy is a puppy, when he becomes a dog he’ll be really good. His body is rounding into shape over the last year, he’s gotten a lot better and he will continue to get better if he keeps working.
“He’ll be a phenomenal player if he continues to work and I think he will. The sky is the limit for him, I think he’ll be great at the college level and I think he’ll get the opportunity to play at the next level as well.”
Okafor isn’t an explosive athlete — Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld compared his game more to Al Jefferson, others have said more of a larger Jared Sulinger, but those are not bad guys to be compared with. And Sampson is right in that his conditioning needs a little work (although it is apparently improved from a year ago) but the things you pick apart in his game were very fixable.
What he had for a player his age is a remarkable amount of polish — he has clearly put a lot of time into his game. He needs to work on his body more and he seemed to float through the game and watch at times, but when he was focused and wanted to score he looked strong in the post.
“He’s got a lot of tools,” Sampson said of Okafor’s game. “He can play above the rim but he just doesn’t know it yet. He’s got a lot of tools in his bag and he’s going to refine them, know when to use them and he’s going to be dynamite.”
We’ll see how things pan out over the next couple years, guys will move up and down draft board. Other guys like Myles Turner and D’Angelo Russell also impressed at the adidas international showcase event they host annually. But keep an eye on Jahlil Okafor, he’s got the potential to be an impact big man in the NBA.