CHICAGO - For the better part of his high school career it seemed as if Jahlil Okafor would never escape the shadow of Jabari Parker. Anything Jahlil did, Jabari had already done better: be All-State, check; make the McDonald's All American team, check; sign with Duke University, check; be named Illinois Mr. Basketball, double check, (Parker won the award in 2012 AND 2013); lead Whitney Young to the 2014 Illinois Class 4A State Championship, CHECK, CHECK, CHECK CHECK, (Jabari and Simeon had won the previous four).
Even when Jabari Parker's Duke squad got bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Mercer, the prospect of him forgoing the NBA Draft - and possibly the #1 overall pick - to return to Durham for his sophomore season, dominated the headlines during the best week of Jahlil's career: a week in which he won his first state championship and was named 2014 Morgan Wootten National High School Male Player of the Year (yes, Parker won it last year). Last night, the 6-11 Whitney Young senior added the one trophy to his mantel that even the great Jabari Parker was never able capture - MVP of the McDonald's All American Game.
"I really wanted to win this game it being my last time playing in Chicago as a high schooler," said Okafor, the nation's #1 recruit. Jahlil was excellent in his United Center debut, scoring 17 points (8-15 FG) and grabbing seven rebounds in his West squad's 105-102 victory over fellow Chicagoan Cliff Alexander's East team. Alexander, a Kansas-bound power forward from Curie, shook off a badly injured wrist and clocked in with a workman-like nine points and 11 boards in a game high 25 minutes for the East.
Okafor shared MVP honors with his future Tobacco Road rival, the East's Justin Jackson, a UNC signee, who led all scorers with a highly efficient 23 points (11-14 FG). The game's outcome was still in doubt when Okafor's future Duke running mate, Tyus Jones (seven points, 10 assists), winner of Monday night's Powerade JamFest Skill's Competition, hit a baseline jumper with 47.7 seconds left to give the East a 1-point lead. Refusing to lose, Jahlil responded on the next possession with a thunderous dunk to give the West a 103-102 lead that would never vanquish. Future Hoosier, James Blackmon, Jr (13 points, 5-11 FGs), the champion of the 3-point shooting competition, had a chance to be the hero for the East, but his 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left was off the mark.
At the post game press conference Okafor and Jackson could hardly contain themselves when asked about the prospect of bringing their budding rivalry with them down to the Old North State."I'm definitely excited to get down to Durham and be part of the greatest college basketball rivalry," said Okafor who will be joined at Duke by fellow McDonald's All Americans Grayson Allen (four points, 2-6 FGs), Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow (nine points, 4-6 FGs). "There's been a lot of trash talk between us and the recruits going to North Carolina but we're all competitors so we're looking forward to it." Justin Jackson added, "We're all good friends off the court, so we've built really good relationships off the court, so we're really looking forward to getting down to North Carolina." Jackson will be joined in Carolina Blue next year by Theo Pinson (three points, three assists) and Joel Berry II (seven points, four assists).
While it remains to be seen if Jabari Parker will be sticking around the gothic wonderland this fall, something tells me Jahlil Okafor would have no problem being nurtured under the shadow of his good friend, especially if it means bringing a championship back to Durham. Until then, Jahlil Okafor will be enjoying his day in the sun.
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Also: Check out below the full Post Game Press Conference with Jahlil Okafor, Justin Jackson, and Rashad Vaughn.
Tags: Cliff Alexander, Duke, Duke Blue Devils, ESPN, High School, High School Basketball, Indiana Hoosiers, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, James Blackmon, James Bllackmon, Jr, Justin Jackson, Kansas Jayhawks, McDAAG, McDonald's All American Game, North Carolina Tarheels, Tobacco Road, Tyus Jones, UNC, United Center