By Joe Henricksen

Jahlil Okafor recruitment playbook could be best seller

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The percentage of people who are ever considered the very best at what they do is miniscule. And the expectations and potential power that comes with it when you are is enormous.

So imagine being the No. 1 ranked high school basketball prospect in the country in today's world and all that comes with it.

Then imagine being the parent of that No. 1 ranked high school basketball prospect in the country.

Trying to keep your son humble could evolve into a part-time job. Maintaining the hunger to improve and remain focused on academics might be a struggle. Dealing with the media at a young age, traveling the country and the world on an AAU and U.S. National Team basketball voyage while going through a relentless recruiting process could make your son grow up a little more quickly than you ever imagined.

By all accounts, Chuck Okafor, the single-parent father of Jahlil Okafor, the nation's top-ranked basketball player, has either followed the right playbook or designed his own that should be followed.

Jahlil Okafor, whose mother passed away when he was 9 years old from a collapsed lung, is about as down-to-earth and humble of a superstar player as you will find.

Jahlil, the son, is a throwback in so many ways, from his back-to-the-basket game on the court to the way he handles himself on it and off. It's part of the reason why the Hoops Report was so adamant Okafor should be the player of the year as a junior this past season, providing 20 reasons why in an earlier column.

Academically solid, Jahlil is concerned about his grades and who he represents. He played chess, the saxophone and tuba before becoming the nation's top player. He brings zero baggage and is the anti-prima dona. He respects the game, his teammates and his coaches. He wants to be coached. And he knows there is so much more work to be done.

Then there is dad, Chuck Okafor, who has had a coveted and talked-about son for several years as the No. 1 basketball prospect in the country. It would be easy for him -- as we've seen so many times with other prominent high school sports star's parents -- to flaunt, to expect, to demand, to feel as if he's owed or entitled to something. You almost expect it from someone whose son is being projected as a NBA Lottery pick in 22 months.

"There hasn't been one time that he [Chuck Okafor] has tried to force his hand or try to use any influence he has in having the state's and nation's best high school player," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter of his prized player's father. "And he's always been 100 percent honest and straightforward about everything."

Father like son.

Chuck Okafor admits that, as a parent, there are times here and there over the years where as a father you might want to say something. But he says it's always been minor, something he can look past or simply not that big of deal in the grand scheme of things. He also laughs at the thought he's privileged in any way.

"I've never wanted to be overbearing," says Chuck Okafor. "I just try to be very supportive in everything he does. In reality, I know I don't have any power over anyone else. That's nonsense. That's not in me, that's not my character."

Okafor also notes that his son's experience at Whitney Young has been ideal -- athletically, academically, socially and culturally.

"With Whitney Young, with coach Slaughter and the atmosphere they have created for Jahlil there, it's been great in helping him grow into the man he is today," Chuck says in appreciation. "It's been the perfect environment for him."

As far as the recruiting -- going through it and handling it -- a circus would be expected. That's typically the norm when it comes to the very elite who are wooed by big-time programs with intense fans who live for updates on Twitter and the Internet. There are recruiting updates by the hour, many of which are unfounded or just rumors that then lead to questions and frustration.

A prospect, though, has a road to go down regardless if he's the No. 1 player in the country, the 150th ranked player, unranked or he's being recruited by Division II schools. And Chuck Okafor quickly reminds you that that is often forgotten.

"As far as the recruiting, it's still a process," says Okafor. "People forget that it's still really cool for a kid to be wanted. It's still cool to be recruited and to visit these schools. It's still cool for a kid to talk to these coaches of these programs."

But from the outside looking in, it's been interesting and impressive in watching the Okafors walk down the recruiting road as the top-ranked player. There has been little to no examples of "getting out of control" or "becoming a circus" when it comes to his recruitment. There have been no commitments or de-commitments, no transfers to other high schools or prep schools or public rumors, no AAU drama, no getting into trouble or making a mockery of the process or himself.

And even when something has surfaced ever so slightly that might seem a little out of whack, Chuck Okafor has snuffed it out as quickly as the rumor popped up.

Again, highly unusual when dealing with a prospect of this magnitude in the sport of basketball and playing in a major city like Chicago. This wasn't a rapid six-month ascent to the top like Anthony Davis a few years ago; Okafor has been front and center, coveted and courted since the day he entered high school.

"I wouldn't say there was anything pre-mediated in how we were going to go about it," Chuck Okafor says of the approach to the recruiting process. "We wanted to keep it as simple as possible. We wanted to stay in control. We wanted to keep a small circle of people who were involved. We did set up some things like certain days to call, try to text before calling, things like that."

But make no mistake about it, up to this point it's been Jahlil Okafor's show. Chuck Okafor isn't front and center. Dad hasn't stepped on any toes, pushed or guided his son in any direction or been close to being one of those crazy sports parents that make you cringe.

"He is a father well before being Jahlil's No. 1 basketball fan," says Slaughter of Chuck's relationship with his son. "Being his No. 1 fan is secondary. He is a father first and one who has done a phenomenal job raising him."

Slaughter says he sees firsthand "the profound respect and admiration" Jahlil has for his father as well. The two seem to feed off one another.

As a parent, it seems Chuck Okafor has done a masterful job of managing that fine line between giving his son more responsibility than the average teenager and still being a parent. He's allowed him to mature while also keeping him grounded.

"As a father, it's pleasing to see your son grow up in front of your eyes," Chuck Okafor says. "And I've been proud to see how he's handled it all with the way he's carried himself and handled himself. I think he's been well informed throughout the process.

"But up to this point it's really been all his doing. He has handled his own recruitment from the schools he's interested in to cutting the list down. Now, as we get down to the final two schools and making a decision, I will put in a lot more input and my thoughts as a parent."

He's still the dad of the No. 1 basketball prospect in the country.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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1 Comment

Thanks for the look at something else besides the player. Interesting to see and hear how some recruitments take place and how well, or so it appears, this father and son have handled it with all the expectations. Thanks for the great read.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on August 25, 2013 8:10 PM.

Former New Trier star Matt Lottich hired at Valpo was the previous entry in this blog.

Best bang for the high school buck is the next entry in this blog.

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