Monday, January 28, 2013
Parker, Okafor share similar traits
By Paul Biancardi
Everyone who follows high school basketball and college recruiting knows that Jahlil Okafor and Jabari Parker were the two headliners going into Saturday’s Chicago showdown between nationally ranked Whitney Young and Simeon, which Simeon won 44-41 in a hard-fought contest.
Both players sit at No. 2 in their respective class, and without a doubt they are two of the best players in the country regardless of position.
Their games and their positions are vastly different. Parker is an elite small forward who can play many different positions and produce in several ways for his team. His ability to score from different spots on the floor and his high basketball IQ are extremely impressive. The Duke recruit plays the game fast but his mind is processing information in a controlled fashion.
Okafor, meanwhile, is a true center and embraces being a back-to-the-basket low-post player. He can impact any game with his skill, soft touch, rebounding and secure hands, while his ability to run the floor is quickly improving.
Jabari Parker (left) and Jahlil Okafor have different games but similar traits that make them successful.
But while their games feature significant differences, who they are as teammates and people is remarkably similar. After watching them compete in summer camps, AAU basketball as teammates for the Mac Irvin Fire and with their high school teams, it has become evident they have unique personal qualities that enhance their natural skill and separate them in a competitive environment.
First is a true sense of humility, which is crucial when you are as highly ranked as they are. Their humble spirit doesn't mean they think less of themselves; it just means they
think about themselves less often and are quick to praise their coaches and teammates.
“I just play basketball,” Okafor said. “At the end of the day, I play a game I love. It’s not really meaningful compared to what a lot of people do.”
Next is a strong work ethic. Both have a competitive spirit and hard-working approach to their games that has paid major dividends with both individual and team success. Each cares about winning just as much -- if not more -- than their own numbers.
They each also care deeply about their teammates, and that’s a major reason why their teams are so successful. After Simeon knocked off Whitney Young on Saturday, Parker was quick to praise teammates Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn in a postgame interview. During that interview you could see Parker was not pleased with his individual performance, but he was happy his team won and was quick to praise his senior teammates.
Parker, Okafor and Nunn were all teammates for USA Basketball on the Junior World Championship team that won gold in Lithuania last summer. Okafor speaks glowingly of what a great teammate Parker is.
“He is a very uplifting person who is always positive,” Okafor said. “If you are struggling, he makes sure he helps you out.”
USA Developmental National Team head coach Don Showalter has coached Parker and Okafor and has high praise for both.
“They are special kids and two of the nicest kids you ever will meet,” Showalter said. “Very coachable and hard workers, and not to mention great players.”
Academically, they both strive for excellence in the classroom and take their studies seriously with GPAs better than 3.0, and they each also give back to their community.
The bottom line is this: Both Parker and Okafor have more than enough talent to be great, but it’s their personal qualities that elevate them to true greatness.
Kendrick Nunn is Robin to Jabari Parker's Batman.
Supporting casts come up big
A big reason why Simeon won Saturday’s game was the strong play of Tate and Nunn, both of whom have signed with Illinois. Each had fantastic all-around games as Parker (seven points, six rebounds) struggled scoring the ball. Tate finished with 12 points, while Nunn had 10 points and six assists.
For Whitney Young, Okafor got in early foul trouble and never got into a rhythm. He lost some aggressiveness and really didn’t play enough minutes to be a factor, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and four blocks.
However, with Okafor slowed by foul trouble, Whitney Young junior small forward L.J. Peak had a breakout performance and a game-high 20 points (14 in the third quarter). He was knocking down 3s and finishing at the rim to keep the Dolphins close. Whitney Young trailed by as many as 13 points, but Peak’s career night led the Dolphins back in the second half before eventually falling.
That is the essence of a team: When the stars don’t perform, the supporting cast steps it up and takes advantage of an opportunity. Tate, Nunn and Peak definitely did that.