The first time Mike Krzyzewski offered unsolicited praise of Jahlil Okafor was last March, just a few days after Duke’s season had come to its unexpected and sudden end.
“You always have to learn to play with the best players. That’s the way it is,” Krzyzewski was saying. “The kid who has the most talent is Okafor. He’s just a real special talent.”
Then there it was again in September.
“With Jah, you’ll see,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s good.”
“There’s nobody like him.”
There was certainly nobody like Okafor at Duke’s version of midnight madness, Countdown to Craziness. The first half of the scrimmage served as his public debut – and it served notice that Krzyzewski’s lofty talk appears to be warranted.
Okafor’s first shot was a hook shot.
His second was a dunk.
His third was a lay-up off of a spin move going to his left.
His fourth was a jump shot from the elbow.
His fifth was a 15-foot bank shot from a tough angle, in the no-man’s land toward the baseline.
At the end of the 12-minute period, Okafor was 6-for-8 for 12 points. He led his team, which was composed of the five that are the current favorites to start – Tyus Jones, Matt Jones, Justise Winslow, and Amile Jefferson, along with himself – to a 34-17 victory over the Blue team (Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen, Rasheed Sulaimon, Semi Ojeleye and Marshall Plumlee).
“The combination of his size and strength with his touch,” said Marshall Plumlee, detailing what makes Okafor so good. “So he’s big enough to get position where he wants and be able to put it on the rim softly to where he shoots a very high percentage.”
While prodigiously talented, Okafor still gets nervous before games. Scrimmages, too.
“Definitely,” Okafor said. “So nervous. I was talking to Amile, and he said once the ball tipped, that I would be fine.
“He was right.”
There is still more Okafor can do, Krzyzewski said, abilities he wasn’t able to display in this short window: He’ll pass more, so defenses just can’t collapse on him. And maybe some of the spin moves (his personal favorite move) will become simpler, easier finishes for higher percentage shots.
But even just in two 12-minute periods, this much was clear: Duke’s offense will go as far as Okafor can take it.
“He has a great feel for the game, and because he has such gigantic hands, and he has great feet, he needs to have the ability to improvise,” Krzyzewski said. “We want that.”