WHEELING, W.Va. — A who’s who of college basketball powerhouses are already chasing Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 post player in the class of 2014.
On Saturday at the Cancer Research Classic, Okafor named off a list that included Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona, Georgetown, UCLA and several others high-major programs.
Okafor won’t even be playing college ball until the 2014-15 season. Some of the coaches on that list would like to see him at their school a little earlier.
“I won’t say who, but some of them have mentioned that it might be good for me to reclassify,” Okafor told the Herald-Leader. “They say there’s really no point for me to go another year (of high school). But I’m just taking my time and enjoying it.”
Okafor later said he would “definitely not” reclassify to 2013. Talent-wise, he’s already among the best in the country.
Rivals.com and MaxPreps rank the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center as the No. 1 overall prospect in 2014.
ESPN analyst Dave Telep, who has Okafor rated No. 2 overall, compared the Chicago big man to former Ohio State star Jared Sullinger.
“I think Jared Sullinger is a pretty high standard to hold a guy to,” Telep told the Herald-Leader. “But they’re similar anchor-type guys in college.
“If you look at him from a college perspective, you know exactly what you’re going to get. He’s going to flirt with a double-double every time he steps on the floor. He’s going to guard his man. You have to account for him on both ends.”
Okafor wowed the crowd at Saturday’s event, scoring 32 points in a variety of ways in Whitney Young’s 78-49 victory over nationally ranked Neumann-Goretti (Pa.). Okafor was 14-for-18 from the field and added six rebounds and three blocked shots. He also showed great stamina for a player of his size, playing all but the last three minutes of the blowout.
Neumann-Goretti constantly triple-teamed Okafor in the post. He was credited with only one assist, but he made several nice passes out of those triple teams that eventually led to wide-open looks for his teammates.
“He has great feel,” Telep said. “You can run your offense through him. He’s going to work hard to get the ball. He’s conscientious with what he does. And he’s not a black hole.
“To be a post player that talented with that size, and then to add an element of being a guy who can move the ball around when he doesn’t have a shot, it’s pretty significant.”
Kentucky and Louisville are certainly paying attention.
UK assistant Orlando Antigua watched Saturday’s game, and Okafor was one of the first 2014 prospects to receive a scholarship offer from the Cats.
He doesn’t plan to take any more college visits until after the high school season but said that Lexington would “definitely” be on his list of destinations when that time comes. Okafor noted UK’s recent success with post players, and mentioned two previous Chicago stars that have played for John Calipari — Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose.
“Kentucky speaks for itself with all of the NBA players that they’ve produced,” Okafor said. “That’s my dream. That’s a school that could help me out with that. … It’s definitely an attraction for me.”
Louisville is another possible landing spot.
Rick Pitino traveled to Chicago earlier this season to attend one of Okafor’s practices. They spoke about how he could fit in at Louisville, where Okafor’s friend and former AAU teammate — sophomore Wayne Blackshear — starts for the Cards.
Okafor said Pitino talked to his father — an assistant at Whitney Young — for 20 or 30 minutes. That conversation yielded some interesting info from Pitino, who has never had a one-and-done player.
“He told my father he feels I’ll be a different big man,” Okafor said. “One-and-done is something he mentioned that I can do at any school. But he would like for me to do that at Louisville.
“If that was something I was interested in, he said that’s something I could do there.”
Louisville has one major disadvantage.
The Cardinals are not among the eight finalists for Minnesota’s Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2014. Okafor called Jones his best friend and the two have long talked of playing for the same school.
UK is one of the schools on Jones’ list, which also includes Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and North Carolina.
The two players first met in the third grade, when Okafor says his team defeated Jones’ squad in a national tournament. They reconnected a few years later and became even closer last summer as members of the U.S. under-17 national team.
That team won the world championship in Lithuania — Okafor was named MVP — and also competed in Mexico.
“When you’re in another country, it kind of forces you to bond with some of the other players,” Okafor said. “And he’s somebody that I really bonded with.”
Jones is planning to visit Kentucky later this month. Scout.com and ESPN rank him as the No. 1 overall player in the class.
Okafor talks to Jones every day on the phone, but they rarely mention colleges. When decision time nears, they’ll take some of their official visits together and then compare notes.
“We’ll have a few different schools, but at the end of the day we’re going to see what we can do to go together,” Okafor said.