Duke lands pair of nation's top 5 basketball recruits
Duke landed a package deal Friday.
Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, best friends and two of the nation’s top five recruits, followed through on their plans to play college basketball together by committing to play at Duke next season.
The 6-10, 280-pound Okafor, from center city Chicago’s Whitney Young High School, and the 6-1 Jones, from Apple Valley High outside Minneapolis, had made it clear during the recruiting process that they would attend the same school as a package deal.
They narrowed their choices to Duke, Baylor and Kansas before making simultaneous announcements, both televised by ESPNU, at their high schools on Friday.
“With Duke, I felt more comfortable going to play for the winningest coach in college basketball,” Okafor said of joining coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.
Okafor is considered the consensus No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 by various recruiting services. Jones is rated anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 in the class.
Together, regardless of which players return from this year’s No. 4-ranked team, Okafor and Jones make Duke a contender for the NCAA championship in the 2014-15 season.
“We sold each other,” Jones said. “Whether me pulling him or him pulling me. We just sat down and figured what would be the best fit for the both of us to go play and make an impact our freshman year, to really learn and better ourselves as players and as people. So we felt that Duke was the right fit for ourselves and that we would be able to succeed there.”
ESPN analyst Jay Williams, a former All-American guard who helped Duke win the 2001 NCAA title while known as Jason Williams, has watched Jones in the AAU circuit and came away impressed.
“He is extremely poised and extremely mature,” Williams said. “The thing I like about him is he runs the team.”
Okafor and Jones join Grayson Allen, a 6-3 shooting guard from Providence Christian High School in Riverview, Fla., in Duke’s recruiting class that will jump to the top of the national rankings. Allen committed to play for Duke in August.
Jones and Okafor have been friends since the third grade. They rekindled their friendship while playing with USA Basketball overseas as freshmen and sophomores.
“He is like my best friend,” Okafor said. “He is like a brother to me. You take basketball out of the equation and he’s still somebody I would like to go to college with.”
At times during the recruiting process, rumors swirled that Jones and Okafor might go to different schools. Jones said Friday that was never the case.
“This has been our goal and dream for the past 2-plus years,” Jones said.
The 66-year-old Krzyzewski proved he still knows how to make a positive impression on the nation’s top teenage basketball players.
“He’s legend,” Jones said. “He has coached for many years and is arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time. He has a great basketball mind and I feel like I’ll be able to learn a tremendous amount under him.”
Krzyzewski already has more wins than any other men’s basketball coach in Division I history. Having started this season with 957 career wins, he’s on pace to reach the 1,000-win plateau next season.
“Getting a chance for me personally to get to help Coach K win his 1,000th game would truly be meaningful to me,” Okafor said. “That tipped the scale for me.”