LAS VEGAS – If you’re about to start what is going to turn out to be a 13-hour day of hoops-de-doing, why not begin with the best?
As far as high school low-post players go, they don’t come any better these days than Jahil Okafor.
The 6-foot-10, junior-to-be from Whitney Young High in Chicago got to play against someone his own size – more or less – and made the most of the opportunity by putting most of his immense set of skills on display while leading the Mac Irvin Fire to another lopsided victory, this one over the Los Angeles-based Basketball Training Institute Double Pump.
The Durango High gymnasium, home to the Big Foot Classic, might have been barely half-full – or half-empty, if you’re a pessimistic sort – but a healthy chunk of the gathering was made up of college coaches.
And they got an up close look at Okafor as he responded to a pretty good challenge in assertive fashion.
Six-10, 210-pound Aaron Liberman, who was a senior last season at Valley Torah, had some success against Okafor in the early going, scoring inside on a quick turnaround, a follow shot and a couple of jumpers near the top of the key.
But then Okafor systematically demonstrated why there is a reasonable expectation by some basketball observers – me, for one – that he can be the No. 1 pick in an NBA Draft, as soon as 2015 (if current NBA rules, dictating that a U.S. resident isn’t eligible to be drafted until one year removed from his high school class’ graduation.
Okafor, who plays with a remarkably even-keeled temperament (he plays hard and forcefully but never seems to do anything “for effect”), has the kind of quick feet and balance that the late Pete Newell would have loved to work with.
Like at least one other currently on the high school scene – Julius Randle, the top prospect in the 2013 class – Okafor is impossible to contain, on the prep level, in and around the key with a solo defender.
And he’s a willing – and effective – passer out of the post with the inevitable double- and triple-teaming defender helps across or down on him.
Having perimeter players such as 2013 guards Kyle Davis and Billy Garrett (both of Morgan Park) and Sterling Brown and Paris Lee (both of Proviso East) surrounding Okafor, translates to “pick your poison” with the club – let Okafor score at will against solo defenders or hit cutters and wide-open jump shooters.
In the other game I watched in the Durango gym Friday, the Oakland Soldiers bounced back from their Thursday upset against California Supreme (like the Soldiers and Fire, a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League program) by handling a gifted Louisiana Select program.
The Soldiers held out wunderkind Aaron Gordon (the 6-8 senior-to-be from San Jose Mitty had a slight muscle pull in his side but was expected to participant in the bracket playoffs that get underway Saturday morning) Friday but there was more than enough scoring options on hand.
Wings Jabari Byrd (6-5/2013/Richmond, CA/Salesian) and Stanley Johnson (6-5+/2014/Santa Ana, CA/Mater Dei) scored with near-absurd ease, in transition or on pull-up jumpers, off the catch or after one or two dribbles.
Byrd’s Salesian teammate and classmate, 6-0 Mario Dunn, also knocked in three or four deep jumpers and penetrated into the lane and to the rim comfortably and effectively.
Watch for 6-7, 220-pound Jalen Canty (a junior-to-be at Vallejo, CA/St. Patrick-St. Vincent) to be one of the program’s hubs a year from now when the likes of Gordon and Byrd are attending summer school sessions at the colleges of their respective choices.
There was a stretch of eight or nine minutes in the second half when he appeared to grab every defensive rebound for his club.
Louisiana Select’s standout 6-8 power forward Jarell Martin (Baton Rouge, LA/Madison Prep) showed off his rebounding prowess (at least on the defensive end), had a spectacular finish in transition, a score from the right block off a crisp move and knocked in a couple of deep jumpers.
But the Soldiers’ aggressive defense by the likes of Canty and Johnson kept him from ever getting on any kind of real offensive run in the second half.
A player to follow closely over the next three years is 6-5 Brandon Sampson, a sophomore-to-be for Louisiana Select and a high school teammate of Martin.
His name should be added to any legitimate list of the Top 50 or so members of the national Class of 2015.
The next (and last) stop of the hoops-viewing Friday was Bishop Gorman, for Day III (including Wednesday’s six “showcase” games) of the Fab 48.
Among the highlights:
*Keith Frazier (6-5/2013/Dallas Kimball and DJH5), Matt Thomas (6-4/2013/Onalaska, WI and the Wisconsin Playmakers) and Rashad Muhammad (6-5/2013/Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and the Las Vegas Prospects-17) put on scintillating jump-shooting performances Friday.
I’ve seen Frazier and Muhammad play dozens of times over the past two years.
But I was taking my first look at Thomas Friday and he proceeded to help his very good squad shoot holes in Southern California power Santa Ana Mater Dei for a 74-47 victory.
I’ve been told my multiple college coaches that Thomas – who committed a few weeks ago to Iowa State – is as good a long-range jump shooter as there is in the prep ranks and I saw no reason to dispute that suggestion Friday night.
*Southern California’s Prodigy Elite toppled a pretty good Nevada Wolverines squad (led by 6-7 Hunter Myers of Minden, NV, Douglass).
Prodigy Elite’s Jordan McLaughlin (Etiwanda) continued to win over coaches, several of which believe that he is already as good a guard prospect as there is in the West – and beyond – even with a couple of seasons of prep eligibility remaining.
*London Perrantes (Encino, CA/Crespi), one of the West’s very best point guards from the Class of 2013, directed a nifty come-from-behind, overtime victory for the Double Pump Elite 2013 club over Colorado Chaos.
*Another point guard, Ikenna Iroegbu (6-1/2013/Mouth of Wilson, VA, Oak Hill Academy), played as well as he has all spring and summer while pacing Belmont Shore to an overtime 81-80 victory over M33M (its players are from Memphis and surrounding communities).
Iroegbu is always quick and vertically explosive but Friday he also played on balance and hit most of his jump shots.
*One of the Class of 2013’s most aggressive forwards, Vincent Hunter (6-7/Detroit Consortium and Detroit Stars), helped his team hold off Northern California’s Bay Area Hoosiers.
Hunter’s offensive skills are still at the crude stage but no one will ever accuse him of going at things at anything less than 100 percent at both ends of the floor.
Frank Burlison is one of the most respected basketball writers and basketball talent evaluators in the world. He’s an original (1978) member of the McDonald’s All-American Selection/Advisory Committee and was inducted into the United States Basketball Writers’ Association Hall of Fame during the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis. You can catch his writing, player evaluations and comments on the sport – on all levels – at www.BurlisonOnBasketball.com and via his Twitter account – FrankieBur. He can be contacted at email@example.com