Three-time Gold Medalist Jahlil Okafor Anchors USA Frontcourt For 2014 Nike Hoop Summit
Feb. 19, 2014 • Colorado Springs, Colo.
By the time Jahlil Okafor (Chicago, Ill.) began his senior year at Whitney Young High School this past fall, the 6-foot-10 center already was a three-time gold medalist with USA Basketball. This spring, he will be looking to wrap up his prep career with another win with USA Basketball, this time in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit, which will be played on April 12 at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.
Okafor and his U.S. teammates will take on a World Select Team of top international talent age 19-years-old or younger that has beaten the USA in the past two editions of the annual event. While the rosters for the U.S. and World teams are different each and every year, there is no doubt this year’s group of U.S. talent is looking to avenge the USA’s last two losses.
“I was very excited, when I got the call to be on the (USA) Nike Hoop Summit team, just like my last three years being a part of USA Basketball,” Okafor said. “Any chance I get to be a part of USA Basketball is really exciting for me and also my family. So, it was a call that I was hoping to get and I was pretty sure that I would get, but it’s still exciting to know that I get the opportunity to represent USA again.
“I think the game is going to be a lot of fun,” Okafor continued. “I know all of us, we just want to win, and I know we lost the game the last two years. Everybody that is going to be on the team this year not only is going to be motivated to win, there won’t be any personal agendas or anything like that, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Also, I’m looking forward to playing with some of the new guys like Myles Turner, Kevin Oubre and James Blackmon. That is going to be fun. I’m just ready to get the game underway, and I can’t wait.”
In fact, the Nike Hoop Summit has been on Okafor’s radar since it was first explained to him when he was 15 years old and participating in the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team training camp. Three years later, Okafor has helped USA Basketball to gold medals at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship – where he was named MVP of the tournament, and the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, where, despite being just 17 years old, he was named to the five-player all-tournament team.
With Okafor poised to put an exclamation point on his prep career in the 17th annual Nike Hoop Summit, he currently is in the midst of playoff action with Whitney Young.
“It’s been pretty decent,” Okafor said of his senior campaign. “Right now we are in the city playoffs. We are hoping to repeat as city champions, and after that we jump right to the state playoffs. So, hopefully I can win my first state championship of my high school career. I’ve lot my last three years to another USA Basketball player, Jabari Parker. He’s beaten me the past three years, so hopefully I can win my first one this year.”
Parker and Okafor were teammates on the 2011 USA U16 and 2012 USA U17 teams, and it is that kind of continuity that has helped USA Basketball remain undefeated in U16 and U17 play since its inception in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The family atmosphere that is a characteristic of all USA training camps is one reason Okafor said he has confidence in the USA team for the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit.
“I know my teammates pretty well,” Okafor said. “ I am familiar with them because they have all been a part of USA Basketball at some point.
During his time playing for the red, white and blue, Okafor has gotten bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled, but this past summer playing for University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, Okafor learned something he hadn’t yet been taught – college-level defense.
“I have learned so much with USA Basketball,” Okafor said. “I think the main thing I have learned was actually last year when I was playing up with coach Billy Donovan and the U19 team. They really focused on my defense and working on my defense. Pick-and-roll defense was one thing they really stressed to me, the importance of that. All the college guys pretty much understood that, and it was familiar to them, but me being a high school guy, it was kind of new to me, so I think that’s one thing I really learned the most.”
Already a USA Basketball veteran at 18 years old, Okafor, who is 22-0 in a USA jersey, did have some advice when asked what he would say to players who want to represent the USA on the basketball court.
“It’s completely different from playing high school basketball or AAU, or a camp, because it’s really all about the name on the front of your chest – USA Basketball. When you travel to those countries, when you walk into the gym or your walking around the streets, wherever you are, all the eyes are on you, and that’s because you have USA across your chest. So, you have to forget the name that’s on the back of your jersey and just go all out and try to represent USA Basketball in the best way possible.”
If the past is an indication of the future the USA frontcourt is in good hands for the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. See Duke signee and all of the future NCAA and NBA stars in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit and get your tickets now.