Duke

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor just beginning to tap potential

Duke's Jahlil Okafor shoots past Temple's Devontae Watson (23) during the second half in New York, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Duke defeated Temple 74-54.
Duke's Jahlil Okafor shoots past Temple's Devontae Watson (23) during the second half in New York, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Duke defeated Temple 74-54. AP

Dating back to the preseason, the Duke staff has made two things clear about Jahlil Okafor.

First, he is their best player, one so gifted that he is a legitimate national player of the year candidate.

And he is also a work in progress, far from the ceiling of the player he will become.

“As talented as he is, and he is really talented right now, he has a lot to work on,” Jeff Capel said in October. “One of the things I talked to him about his summer was that you’re going to look bad sometimes as you’re getting better, and you have to be okay with that. You have to understand it’s a process. And a big key for you is you have to fall in love with it.”

Through three games, Okafor looked like close to a beauty queen, shooting 83.3 percent from the field, showing off a variety of post moves that had some thinking of a young Tim Duncan. In Duke’s 74-54 win against Temple on Friday night, it didn’t quite come as easily.

Okafor shot 3-of-13 from the field in the first 20 minutes.

“They were real physical and clean,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Temple’s defense on Okafor. “Jah has to be ready for that, the bodying up when you do have the ball.

“He only went to the line twice tonight. That has nothing to do with the officials – he has to sell his stuff if he misses,” Krzyzewski continued. “He was just shooting the ball and then getting bodied up. It influences your shot.”

Okafor also recorded seven offensive rebounds (and none on the defensive end) in the opening half.

Three of those times, he grabbed his own miss and went right back up with it – and he missed all three second chances. The other four times he was grabbing a teammate’s miss – he went right back up with three of those. And he missed that trio, too.

The final offensive rebound was kicked back out to Quinn Cook beyond the arc. Cook missed on that 3, but it was an open shot.

“Sometimes when you get an offensive rebound like that and pass it back out, that’s the best 3 that we can get,” Krzyzewski said.

In the end, Okafor finished 7-of-20 (35 percent) from the field for 16 points, along with eight rebounds and two blocks. The Blue Devils were told they could have fed Okafor more early, Justise Winslow said.

“I’d love to get him 20 shots every game,” Krzyzewski said. “And he is going to score more than he did tonight.”

Krzyzewski is convinced greatness is coming for Okafor – it might not happen in his year at Duke, but it will come, according to the veteran coach.

“There is really not anything Jah should not be able to do,” he said. “Eventually.”

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