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May 5, 2012

MSU target Okafor dominant at Spiece

FORT WAYNE, Ind. - The nation's No. 4-ranked junior-to-be is taking recruiting day by day. With a little input from DayDay.

Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-10 center from Chicago Whitney Young High School, scored 17 points in a 90-59 victory for his Mac Irvin Fire summer travel team on Friday night against Ohio Varsity. Following the game, Okafor brought reporters up to speed on the latest in his recruitment.

"I've heard from Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona, UConn and Georgetown," Okafor said.

The Huskies and Hoyas are a bit new to the list. The others, including Arizona, have been mainstays on his favorites list for several weeks.

As for a little extra insight, Okafor said he enjoys hearing quizzing college players.

"Ohio State, they have Sam Thompson there," Okafor said of the Buckeye freshman who also attended Chicago Whitney Young. "I talk to him a lot. He tells me how much he loves it. They usually inform me of how well he is doing and to talk to him.

"Jared Sullinger and Sam Thompson, they tell me about the program and how much they like it."

When asked about Michigan State, Okafor mentioned another player he regards as a trusted informant.

"I talk to Coach Izzo. He seems really cool," Okafor said. "And Draymond Green, I talk to him and he tells me how much he loves it. When the players tell you how much they love it, I usually take the things they're telling me as the truth."

Okafor was dominant inside on Friday night, utilizing his substantial width and showing excellent ability to elevate quickly and finish with power.

Inside, he is patient, powerful and improving rapidly with his post game. He took his time during one impressive moment on the block on Friday night when he read defenders, navigated through a double-team and scored a lay-in while being fouled. He converted the old fashioned 3-point play to put the Fire up by 28.

Okafor and his Mac Irvin Fire team is among 64 teams participating in the 17-and-under division at the annual Bill Hensley Memorial Run-n-Slam All-Star Classic, arguably the Midwest's preeminent AAU-style tournament. It's an event that Draymond "DayDay" Green participated in as a member of the Michigan Mustangs in 2006 and The Family (Detroit) in 2007.

Michigan State caught Okafor's eye when he and his Whitney Young team participated in the Izzo Shootout team tournament at MSU in 2010.

"I mainly saw the gym and the locker rooms at Michigan State, but it wasn't really a visit," Okafor said. "But I will visit up there soon. They offered me my freshman year, so I've been looking at them for a long time."

That might sound like early attention, but the Spartans weren't first.

"DePaul was the first school to offer me; they offered me in the eighth grade so I'm always going to look at DePaul," Okafor said. "And Illinois was the second school to offer me."

That was back two head coaches ago for those schools. But the Illini are trying to get back in the lead pack with recently-hired head coach John Groce.

"He came up to the school one time and I've spoken with him over the phone one time," Okafor said. "He seemed really cool."

Okafor Unplugged

Okafor on his contact with college coaches: "The only schools I talk to are the Duke coaches and the Ohio State coaches, but everybody else, my dad talks to."

On Duke: "I just enjoy talking to Coach K, who just tells me about the program and how he wants me to go there."

Who is recruiting you the hardest: "I would say Ohio State, Michigan State; Duke and Arizona have been the most consistent."

Anyone jump in lately? "Florida just recently offered."

The Rest Of It

Okafor's highly-heralded summer teammate, Jabari Parker, had 21 points for the Mac Irvin Fire on Friday night. Parker wasn't necessarily hot from long range or medium range on this night, but he rang up some pretty finger rolls, plus a one-handed, put-back circus jam.

Parker is ranked the No. 1 senior-to-be in the country by Rivals.com. Michigan State and Duke are seen as his leaders.

"That wasn't a great team that we played tonight, but what impressed me is that Jabari continued to play the game, respect the game," said Mac Irvin Fire assistant coach Jaimalle Ridley. "Late in the game, he was down low in a good defensive stance, in a 3-2 zone, giving effort (regardless of the score).

"He ran the floor well, he made a wide open 3-pointer, and he showed some of those athletic finishes in transition.

"Jabari is always going to play well. He gets it. He understands what it takes to be special, and what it takes to compete at the high level. He may have one game where he may not shoot it well or rebound a lot but he is always going to find those things to help the team win and compete at a high level. That's one of the things that separates him from the best in the country; he knows how the game is supposed to be played."

And that's one of the things that is going to make the Mac Irvin Fire difficult to beat at the Spiece Run-n-Slam.

The Fire, the host Spiece Indy Heat, and The Family (Detroit) look like three of the favorites to advance far when the knockout rounds begin on Saturday night.

Around The Gym

  • Mac Irvin Fire power forward Thomas Hamilton scored 8 points in the victory. Michigan State is keeping an eye on Hamilton, a senior-to-be, who has offers from Illinois, North Carolina State and Northwestern. He is ranked the No. 45 player in the nation by Rivals.com.

  • Demetrius Jackson, a Plan A recruit on Michigan State's radar, sat out Friday night and stayed home in order to rest up for the SAT. He will take the SAT Saturday morning and then join his MBA Select team at Spiece, Saturday afternoon.

    MBA lost to Ohio Basketball Club without him on Friday night.

    Last weekend, Jackson led MBA to the tournament victory at The Championships, held in Merrillville, Ind.

  • Cliff Alexander is not playing this weekend with the Mac Irvin Fire. Alexander, a regular with the D Rose All-Stars, loaned his services to the Fire last weekend at the Boo Williams Invitational in Virginia.

    Alexander, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward from Chicago Curie High School, is ranked the No. 8 junior-to-be in the country by Rivals.com.

    "Tom Izzo watched Cliff every single step of the way last week," Ridley said. "Coach Izzo was at every game, watching Cliff, and you can see why because Cliff can really rebound the ball, and Izzo is a big rebounding guy. Cliff can really sprint the floor, compete and play tough."

    MSU, Illinois, DePaul, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Tennessee are among a long list of suitors interested in Mr. Alexander.

  • Give a helmet sticker to point guard Kyle Davis of the Mac Irvin Fire. Davis, of Chicago Morgan Park, is a lead guard of about 6-foot-1 with absolutely outstanding speed. Like Mike Conley speed.

    Davis is still working to add polish to his game, but he has high-end juice, which he puts to good use on the defensive end. He scored 14 on Friday night.

    He has offers from George Washington, Wright State and a recent offer from Nebraska. Nebraska's new head coach Tim Miles had offered Davis when Miles was head coach at Colorado State, and has continued his interest now that he is the head man for the Huskers.



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