CHICAGO -- There's something unjust about a nimble, highly-skilled giant like Jahlil Okafor going to work at the high school level. As Okafor's Whitney Young team wrapped up a conference championship with a 70-45 demolishing of North Lawndale Monday night, the 6'11, 275-pound behemoth displayed the full package of offensive gifts that has made him the consensus No. 1 player in the country.
Okafor seemed to have at least four inches and 60 lbs. on whoever was guarding him the entire night, and he never saw just one defender. North Lawndale routinely collapsed three players on him whenever he touched the ball, a sight Okafor has become all too familiar with during his high school career. It rarely mattered. Using the graceful footwork of a man half his size and raw power unseen in a high school gym, Okafor had his way with the opposition. It's what usually happens.
There was a baseline fadeway he hit from the right side in the second quarter. There was an up-and-under scoop he made after pivoting with multiple defenders draped over him. There were one-handed dunks in the halfcourt and two-handed flushes in transition. When Okafor got the ball in deep position, it was over. A lesson that North Lawndale had to learn the hard way, but one that just seemed cruel and unnecessary.
Okafor announced before the season that he will attend Duke in the fall. He's the next in a long line of Chicago All-Americans who chose to spend their college years (or year) with Coach K in Durham, joining the likes of Jon Scheyer, Sean Dockery and Corey Maggette. It's the same choice Jabari Parker made a year earlier. Since then, Parker has gone from a four-time state champion at south side Simeon Career Academy to one of the biggest stars in college basketball.
Okafor and Parker have described themselves as brothers. Their relationship has been building since before the two even selected where they were going to play in high school, let alone college. It has led to national speculation that Parker, a likely top three pick in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft, could return to Duke for his sophomore season to play with his good friend.
Unsurprisingly, it's a move neither player is thinking about right now. Parker and the Blue Devils are focused on conference play in the ACC, while Okafor is looking for his first state championship. His Dolphins were knocked out of the state playoffs last season by Parker and Simeon.
"We haven't really talked about playing together," Okafor said Monday night. "When we were on Mac Irvin Fire (an AAU team), we might have joked about it, but mostly it was like going to a local school that was not as strong just to shock the world. But that was all jokes and us just having fun."
You were so close, DePaul.
Parker corroborated his friend's story, saying he had nothing to do with Okafor's decision to attend Duke. The recruiting process is grueling enough without peer pressure.
"I only talked to him about Duke when he asked," Parker told SB Nation. "I really didn’t want to bring it up because I know how it is during the recruiting process with people constantly trying to tell you this and that. It was mostly his persona and attitude that led to him committing to Duke."
Even if Parker and Okafor aren't planning some grand scheme to combine Chicago's two finest talents at Duke next season, it's clear the players maintain a close bond.
Okafor said he has considered Parker a close friend since the seventh grade, when he played a year up in AAU to team with Parker on the Mac Irvin Fire. The two also paired together at numerous national camps and at the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championship in Lithuania, where the United States took home the gold medal.
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Okafor and Parker each said they keep in touch regularly.
"We talk from time to time," Parker said. "We Snapchat a lot about stupid stuff. Our relationship is about more than basketball but we still check in with each other to see how our seasons are going."
Parker has been dynamic for Duke this season, solidifying the reputation he earned in Chicago as one of the most versatile and complete teenage forwards one will ever see. He hung 27 points and nine rebounds against Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in his second college game, setting the tone for what has turned into a special season.
After struggling a bit at the start of ACC play, Parker has rebounded nicely as of late. He finished with 21 points and 11 boards in a victory over No. 18 Pitt last Monday, and scored 15 in a hotly contested overtime loss to No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday.
The 2014 draft is as stocked with talent as any since at least 2008, and perhaps since the famed 2003 class. Parker is a big reason why, with scouts projecting him as a No. 1 offensive option at the NBA level. Would he really stick around school for another year just to play with Okafor? It's a decision that hasn't been made yet, according to his father.
"I don't really know where that report comes from," Sonny Parker, Jabari's father and a former NBA player, told SB Nation. "I haven't talked to my son about that. He's enjoying college. After the season, we'll probably sit down and talk to him about his future, what he wants to do. He's enjoying college. He's having fun at school. When you're a student athlete especially at Duke University, you don't really have time for anything else."
With so much hype hovering around the both players in the last year, it's easy to forget Okafor and Parker are each just 18 years old. Even if the basketball world around them is consumed by their future, both seem perfectly content with enjoying the present.
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