Without Parker, Illini must focus on Okafor
Simeon forward Jabari Parker, the nation’s top-ranked basketball recruit, will not be playing his college basketball at Illinois. The fact that the program has that information in early July – on the heels of Parker excluding the Illini from his list of 10 possible landing destinations on Wednesday – is some sort of silver lining.
The Illini’s chances of landing Parker have always been slim, and that was unlikely to change no matter how often first-year Illinois coach John Groce or his assistants sat courtside to watch Parker play in July. Now with Parker having excluded Illinois, the coaching staff can spend more meaningful time recruiting 2013 players they have a shot at securing. The coaches also can work on developing relationships with the elite 2014 and 2015 players and their families.
As Parker’s father, Sonny, said Thursday, the decision to leave Illinois out of the mix wasn’t anything personal. The Parker family has consistently emphasized that relationships are vital to Jabari’s recruitment. To no fault of Groce’s, he simply didn’t have enough time to establish a relationship with Parker.
“I guess at this stage it’s the relationship part,” Sonny said. “Coach Groce, I’ve been talking to him. My wife has been talking to coach Groce. He seemed nice. (Jabari) had to have a relationship with him, too. It had nothing to do with the school per se. He has to feel comfortable with who’s there and who’s going to be the coach.
“I don’t think he had a chance to (know Groce) because of scheduling and timing. It’s hard for coaches to call Jabari because we don’t allow coaches to call or text him. It was nothing personal (with Groce.)
“(Jabari) likes the school. His dream is to play for his state school and win a national championship like all kids, but I think the timing, where they were and where we’re at.”
Of course, that still isn’t easy for Illinois fans to absorb. They’ve endured a recent history of the Chicago area’s premier players bypassing Illinois and succeeding elsewhere. Sherron Collins, Jon Scheyer, Julian Wright, Derrick Rose, Evan Turner, Wayne Blackshear and Anthony Davis have been among those who ended up elsewhere and won a lot of basketball games at their out-of-state destinations.
In all likelihood, Parker will elevate the college he attends into a national championship contender in the 2013-2014 season and will be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Would Illinois like that type of prodigious talent? Certainly, and there’s actually another Chicago product following up right behind Parker capable of having that same impact on a program. Whitney Young junior Jahlil Okafor, a 6-11 center currently rated as the No.2 player in the Class of 2014, appears to be one of those rare big men.
“Jahlil is right there with Jabari,” said Mac Irvin Fire coach Mike Irvin, who coaches Parker and Okafor. “He’s definitely right there. Jahlil is probably going to be the best big man this state has ever seen. He’s grown a couple of inches. He’s 6-11, mobile, can run the floor. He’s a game-changer.
“He’s a possible No. 1 draft pick. When you look at the No. 1 pick and the big men who have come out, he fits right there with the No.1 picks. He’s special.”
Okafor’s father, Chukwudi Okafor, said Thursday that his son will not be impacted by Parker choosing to eliminate the Illini and that they are in their recruiting process was still in its infancy.
Irvin believed Illinois now must do anything it can to get Okafor.
“There aren’t Jabari’s and Jahlil Okafor’s that come around often, maybe every 20 years,” Irvin said. “Illinois’ focus has to be on Jahlil Okafor now. You lose a Jabari, man, that’s huge. That’s a blow. Now your thing, if I’m the coach at Illinois, I have to convince Jahlil Okafor.”
At the end of the day, it’s possible that Parker’s rejection of the Illini could lead to Okafor’s acceptance of them.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35