August 1, 2014
Jahlil Okafor couldn’t quite keep his emotions in check.
On Friday at Young, he committed to Duke in front of a national-television audience and nearly his entire school, but the person foremost on his mind wasn’t there.
“My mom is not here today,” Okafor said. “I truly believe every day she has been my wings. I want to give a special thank you to my mom, who I know is watching me right now.”
Dacresha Lanett Benton, Okafor’s mother, died when he was 9. It’s possible that loss has led him to value personal connections more than the average high school kid.
Okafor made a connection with Apple Valley, Minn., point guard Tyus Jones during his freshman year. The two highly regarded players decided to attend college together. That’s something that happens a lot, but it’s not something that fickle teenagers usually stick to, especially when faced with all of the outside influences that come along with high-profile recruitments.
On Friday, they stuck to their word, committing to Duke together.
“Our relationship goes far beyond basketball,” said Okafor, a 6-11 center. “We never thought about splitting up.”
Okafor follows in the footsteps of another friend, Simeon grad and current Duke star Jabari Parker. Both are expected to spend only one year at Duke, so they might have a better chance of playing together in the NBA two years from now than at Duke next year.
“The past two and a half weeks my family, [Tyus Jones’] family, our inner circles have been having conference calls, comparing the schools,” Okafor said. “They’re all great universities. It came down to the academic side and Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski]. He is the most winning coach of all time.”
Okafor, the top player in the national Class of 2014, went into the week considering Duke, Kansas and Baylor. The list was trimmed to Duke and Kansas on Thursday.
Kansas didn’t totally strike out on Friday. Jayhawks coach Bill Self landed Curie’s Cliff Alexander 15 minutes after Okafor committed to Duke. The ceremonies were shown together on ESPNU.
“It’s a special day,” Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel said. “Chicago has shown again that we are first on the court and in the classroom.”