USA Camp: One on one with Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

He's one of the youngest members of Team USA's U19 team, but that's not worrying five star center Jahlil Okafor as his team prepares to head off to the FIBA U19 World Championship. TDD spoke with Okafor about that and much more on Tuesday.

What does it mean to you to make this USA Basketball Team, especially in light that you competed against college players as well?

Jahlil Okafor: It feels great just to come out here and compete. Anytime you compete for USA Basketball it's a great feeling, especially with coming out here and competing against a bunch of guys on the college level, a lot of whom could have gone to the NBA if they wanted to. To be able to come down here and play my game and still compete, it was a real confidence booster for me and my game. I'm just happy to be a part of the team.

What does it mean to you to play alongside your friends Justise Winslow and Rasheed Sulaimon?

It means a lot, it's been a lot of fun, they both are my roommates, and I spend a lot of time with them off the court, so it's a lot of fun and we get to travel all around the world together for the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to it.

Is it hard not having Tyus there?

Oh yeah definitely, that's my brother, he wants to be here so bad but he couldn't because of a family issue, it really hurts me he has to deal with it.

What are you most looking forward to about the travel aspect of playing on this team?

Main thing I'm looking forward to is how much better of a player I can be under coaches like Coach Billy Donovan and Coach Shaka Smart and others, it's such a good staff. I'm looking forward to how they can improve me and giving me new things to do as a player.

Did USA Basketball do new player measurements for you guys at the camp?

Yeah they did. I'm up to 6-foot-11 with shoes, and I'm 270 pounds and a 7-foot-6 wingspan. The new height doesn't hurt at all.

You've been working back from an injury earlier in the spring, how are things with that?

I'm about 95% now, I'm pretty healthy and I feel great.

I noticed on Twitter around Mother's Day that you tweeted out a remembrance of your mom…

I'm very comfortable towards that, me and my dad talk about my mom a lot and all the memories we have of her. Growing up, the one thing when I would start crying, people would always tell me don't be afraid to talk about it and don't forget about all the good memories we had with her. I'm very open to how I feel about her, and thank you for asking, I appreciate it.

Let's shift to you recruiting, if that's ok, how is it progressing for you?

Yeah, I went to a list of eight about a month ago, and a few coaches have texted me while I've been here but most of them know I'm kinda busy with camp, but I'm still with the eight right now. When I get back I have to decide whether I'm going to cut it down some more, I have to talk about that with my dad.

For the fans, is there one thing you've learned about the coaches that the average fan wouldn't know?

You know, a lot of these coaches have a great sense of humor. For instance, a lot of fans think with Coach K that he's this strict, extremely serious, stern guy, but he has a great sense of humor. Lot of people know about Coach Self and how funny he is and how Coach Calipari has a great personality, they don't know how energetic he is.

You mentioned in a recent article that Justise Winslow was very helpful in your process of narrowing your list down to eight, how was he helpful to you?

He was just telling me there was no reason for me to wait, and it would take the pressure off me to go to eight because it wasn't like I was going to down to one, and making the eight shouldn't be that hard. I talked with him and with Tyus because they both had their lists out and I was tired of waiting and I figured eight wasn't that bad and I put my first list out.

Justise also mentioned he advised you relative to the role of big men at schools, how did that come up in your discussion?

Well, he's like my best friend, him and Tyus are my best friends, so we talk about everything and everything, so it just came up because we talk about everything. At this point, I'm pretty confident with every school in how they will use me the right way, and I'm pretty confident I can play in a variety of systems, I'm pretty comfortable with all the schools that I do have and with all the coaches and how they would utilize me and my skill set.

You've talked about the big guys at various schools, is that a historical thing, or are you looking more at recent players?

I look at it all, both the recent and the history at the schools. I'll also look at how well they've done with incoming big men but not only big men but also incoming freshman that were supposed to make an impact to see how they've done, I look at it all.

Whose opinion do you give credence to when evaluating past freshman and the impact they were expected to have and did when they were in college?

Definitely my own opinion on that. I know what these guys were made out to be in high school and pretty sure they were promised some things, which is the reason they went to those schools, so pretty much it's my own opinion.

From your standpoint, what is going to set a school apart in your consideration since you know you will be featured wherever you go?

The coaches, you have to have a good relationship with them which I do at all these schools. I definitely think being comfortable at the school, the players around me, I want to be around other great players because that helps me elevate my game. It's a really tough choice, you have to go with your gut and make the decision that's best for you.

What kind of questions do you see your dad asking the schools recruiting you?

How they develop big men, how would they use me and develop me, he always asks about the academics, he always pretty good questions.

How much does his opinion of schools shape what your opinion is of schools recruiting you? Do you lean on his input a lot?

Oh yeah definitely, that's my dad, we pretty much have the same mindset and we agree on just about everything.

Do you think you guys have learned the most about schools from what coaches have said to you or what you saw on visits or what you have seen watching them play?

Watch what you see on the visits, seeing how the players interact with the coaches, seeing how the coaches coach them and seeing how they practice, I think you see the most when you are on your visits, because the coaches will tell you anything, the visits is where you see the most.

In regards to visits, do you and Tyus feel like you need to take more visits after the scheduled Baylor visit in August before you both can decide?

Oh yeah definitely, we want to take all our visits, that's just the first one we have setup.

Do you feel you have any unanswered questions about any of the schools recruiting you?

No, I wouldn't say that I do.

Do you think you will have an additional cut down of your list before you decide?

My dad and I spoke about that, he said his first opinion was that I should leave it at eight, and then he said maybe we should cut it down, but we really haven't decided yet.

Do you think it's 100% likely that you Justise will be joining you and Tyus at the same school?

I can't say that it's 100% likely. It's just the ideal situation, we would all love to go to the same school and have everything work out. It's not 100% but it's something we would all like to do and hope it works out.

I wanted to ask about Duke's pitch, if you had to sum it up, how would you do that?

Just the brand of Duke, and Duke Basketball. When you look at the off the court the brand of Duke and what it does for you, even if you don't play basketball, you go to Duke, you are still set for life off the court. They are pretty much pitching to me the people I'll be around, not just those who play basketball, but also who you see off the court.

Do you and Jabari Parker talk much about Duke?

Oh no, we don't talk much about Duke all that much, our conversations are like brothers conversations, he doesn't try to recruit me or persuade me to come to Duke.

Is Coach K's involvement with USA Basketball one of the main drawing points for you in your relationship with him-or is it something different?

My relationship with Coach K in USA Basketball is kinda separate from my relationship with him with Duke. I got to talk to him here at the camp for a few times, but it wasn't any kind of recruiting talk, he was just talking with me about how I've been playing well and I should keep it up. He said I was one of the most talented players in this camp and I should impose my will and keep working.

Do you think you are going in with the mindset of being one and done in colleget?

I'm not going into college thinking I'm only going to be there for one year, because I don't know how many years I'm going to spend in college. I'm just going in to enjoy in and compete for a national championship, my mindset going in is not as a one and done player.

With so much going on, and with your schedule being so full, is it sate to assume you and Tyus are thinking early decision, or is this one that'll go longer?

You know, we're really not sure yet. We haven't decided if it'll be early or late.

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