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December 2, 2012

Chicago Elite: Okafor lives up to lofty ranking

MORE: Saturday at Hoopfest

CHICAGO -- For its inaugural year, the Chicago Elite Classic did its best to match up the best from Chicago against the best from around the country. Senior Jabari Parker, the city's big star and the No. 3 player in the class of 2013, even made a surprise return from injury on Saturday. However, it was Jahlil Okafor, the class of 2014 No. 1 player, who had a performance worthy of that standing.

Okafor dominates

Okafor, a near 6-foot-11 center from Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young, is the type of low-post presence who isn't often seen on the high school level. There are plenty of big kids but few with the true back-to-the-basket game, hands and motor of the five-star prospect.

All of the junior's tools were on display as he piled up hoop after hoop on a 34-point, nine-rebound night.

In his first game of the year and facing N.C. State-bound BeeJay Anya and Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, Okafor showed the hometown why college programs are falling all over themselves to land him. He turned to either shoulder for soft finishes off the glass, hit jump hooks, faced and hit jumpers from 15 feet and controlled play on both ends.

Okafor is tough to pin down on an actual list and mentions different schools from time to time. However, he drew Tom Izzo from Michigan State and John Groce from Illinois to the gym. Along with the Spartans and Illini, Okafor mentioned Duke, Kentucky, Ohio State and many more. The big man confirmed that he and five-star point guard Tyus Jones are interested in playing for the same program.

Parker makes surprise return

For the last four months or so, Parker has been sidelined by a broken foot. The 6-foot-8 five-star forward from Chicago (Ill.) Simeon wasn't expected to play in his team's opener on Saturday night, but he made a bit of a surprise return.

Parker played limited minutes and was understandably a little rusty. He's more concerned about the big picture and getting back into the swing of things than he is personal stats.

"I just wanted to play hard while I try to get my game back," Parker said. "It was real important to get a win. A lot of people came out to support us and Chicago tonight."

Simeon used a team effort to cruise to a big win over Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton, and Parker felt like it was a good start.

"It felt great to be back out there," Parker said. "There were some bumps and bruises early before I got comfortable, but my team got going and played well."

Of course, everybody is hoping to find out where Parker is leaning, but he wasn't giving any hints. There's still not a specific time line for making a choice, and Parker was equally glowing when talking about Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Stanford and BYU.

White noise

Even though Okafor draws a lot of attention in the paint for Whitney Young, he's far from the Dolphins' only option. Paul White is a 6-foot-7 four-star junior wing who does many good things.

A patient and under-control player, White is particularly good at knocking home 12- to 17-foot jumpers. He's an excellent passer, chases down opponents to block shots in transition and never seems out of control.

There are often college coaches and scouts watching him and looking to pick his game apart, but White is good with the pressure.

"It's something that you have to get used to," he said of the attention from coaches. "I enjoy the pressure, and I enjoy that feeling that I need to perform."

Illinois, Marquette, Ohio State, Indiana, DePaul, Kansas and Arizonaends are among the teams keeping close tabs, but White is thinking more in the short term. His freshman and sophomore seasons ended earlier than he wanted, so he's looking for big things as a junior.

"Ever since our freshman year, even when Jahlil and I had limited roles, it's ended the same way, with us crying," White said. "We cried like our mother had taken our sucker right out of our mouth. We don't want that again. Well, maybe tears of joy."

BYU-bound trio wins over the Windy City

Early in their game against Maywood (Ill.) Proviso East, the BYU-bound trio of seniors Eric Mika and Nick Emery and junior T.J. Haws of Highland (Utah) Lone Peak were subject to catcalls. It didn't take long to end those calls and seize control of the game.

With 18 points and 16 rebounds, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Mika set the tone with his physical play in the lane. He sprinted the floor for dunks in transition, set crushing picks and gave his guards an outlet and a strong post presence.

While Mika was crushing it down low, Haws was running the show. A 6-foot-2 junior point man, Haws is a lanky and crafty guard who plays a highly skilled game. He knows when to run, he knows when to slow things down, and he knows how to knock down open jumpers. Haws was highly efficient from the field, scoring 24 points on just 10 shots.

Finally, Emery is known as the long-range bomber of the bunch. He got off to a slow start shooting the ball from deep, but while he was waiting to warm up the 6-foot-1 combo guard was whipping crosscourt passes and grabbing rebounds. Then late, he got hot from deep and helped his team run away to a 40-point win.

Closing notes from Chicago

As mentioned earlier, Simeon used a balanced attack to roll to a convincing win over Milton. Nobody really went off for the Wolverines, but several guys played very well. Four-star shooting guard Kendrick Nunn didn't shoot great but was tough on defense and finished in transition. Dayton-bound wing Kendall Pollard got some big finishes, as did senior power forward Russell Woods. Sophomore wing D.J. Williams showed off his baseline jumper.

He's still a freshman, but get used to reading an awful lot about 6-foot-5 wing V.J. King. The 2016 product from Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent St. Mary's is a very good 12- to 17-foot jump shooter with a high-level frame. He creates easily off of the dribble, is an athlete and plays both ends of the floor. King is one of the nation's premier freshmen and played to his lofty reputation.

Also having a big day for St. V/St. M was 6-foot-4 wing Jalen Hudson. A native of Richmond (Va.) who recently moved to Akron, Hudson has good size, good athleticism and was extra hot from beyond the 3-point line. Akron, Kent State and the College of Charleston have offered, and he reported additional interest from Virginia Tech, Virginia, Iowa, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Richmond and more.

According to unsigned senior three-star guard Elijah Brown, Butler and St. Mary's are standing out at this point. A 6-foot-2 scorer who likes to shoot jumpers, Brown has a solid frame and is quick off his feet around the rim. More than anything, he's confident with his shot and can get himself looks off the dribble.

For St. Joseph's, sophomore point guard Glynn Watson was interesting to watch. The 5-foot-11 floor general is very quick and sometimes seems on the brink of being out of control, but he makes things happen off the bounce. He has an offer from Purdue and interest from Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Marquette and Illinois. Also good for St. Joe's was 6-foot-4 junior wing Paul Turner. Turner is a strong wing who can rebound and slash to the rim.

Early in the day, recent Ohio State commitment Keita Bates-Diop was productive against St. Vincent-St. Mary. Limited by early foul trouble, the 6-foot-7 junior wasn't as physical or active around the rim as he might have liked. However, the top-20 player displayed a nice jump shot. He's always been a threat to shoot, but he's now creating looks from deep for himself off of the dribble and has the confidence to rise and fire from 3 during the secondary break. Bates-Diop hit five of nine from downtown and finished with 23 points and six rebounds.

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