Ralph Sampson on Jahlil Okafor: ‘The sky is the limit for him’

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If you’re a fan of the NBA Draft, the next few years probably won’t offer much surprise. If Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins is a one-and-done, like many anticipate, he’ll go first in 2014. Whitney Young Magnet High (Ill.) center Jahlil Okafor hasn’t even begun his senior year of high school, and he’s being tabbed as the top overall selection in 2015.

Ralph Sampson, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, saw enough from adidas Nation’s championship game on Monday night to think very highly of the 17-year-old.

“He’s a puppy,” Sampson told Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk. “The big boy is a puppy, when he becomes a dog he’ll be really good. His body is rounding into shape over the last year, he’s gotten a lot better and he will continue to get better if he keeps working.

“He’ll be a phenomenal player if he continues to work and I think he will. The sky is the limit for him, I think he’ll be great at the college level and I think he’ll get the opportunity to play at the next level as well.”

Okafor is in the midst of an important summer. He’s listed as the nation’s top high school player, he trimmed his list eight finalists and earned a Gold Medal and an All-Tournament team selection at the FIBA World Championships with USA Basketball’s Under-19 team — again he’s only 17.

Playing for Team USA earlier this summer — on a team coached by Billy Donovan and Shaka Smart — Okafor learned the importance of being in peak condition, as stated during Monday night’s broadcast of the game. The 6-foot-11 Chicago native ended the game with 15 points and eight boards in the loss.

“He’s got a lot of tools,” Sampson said. “He can play above the rim but he just doesn’t know it yet. He’s got a lot of tools in his bag and he’s going to refine them, know when to use them and he’s going to be dynamite.”

Before Okafor can take to the stage and shake commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, he’ll first have to pick a school to attend. His father stated that there is no timetable for his decision, though,  Mike Irvin, Okafor’s Mac Fire Irvin coach, has been quoted as saying he thinks he’ll attend Duke with Apple Valley High (Minn.) point guard Tyus Jones.

Illinois’ injury woes continue as starting center needs knee surgery

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Illinois suffered another blow in what has already turned out to be a brutal season.

Mike Thorne is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus. He reportedly underwent surgery on Monday to repair the injury.

Thorne, a transfer from Charlotte, was starting at center for the Illini and doing a good job of it as well. He was averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 boards, although Illinois has started off the season 3-4.

The reason for that slow start has mainly been those injuries. Tracy Abrams is already out for the season after tearing his achilles, and the Illini training room looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Kendrick Nunn just returned two games ago from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. LeRon Black is still getting back to speed after offseason knee surgery. Jaylon Tate is back after dislocating a finger. Jalen Coleman-Lands was slowed by a stress fracture.

John Groce entered this season on the hot seat, and dealing with all of these injuries certainly isn’t helping his cause.

NEW PODCAST: Recapping Feast Week

Kris Dunn
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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We talk about a lot of stuff of the podcast today, mainly because a lot of stuff happened since we last spoke with you all.

For starters, we need to discuss the ‘realness’ of Syracuse and Xavier. Are they both truly top 15 teams, or do they just have top 15 resumes? We also dive into Chris Mack’s epic troll-job of Dayton at the Advocare Invitational final.

Other topics we touched on: Whether or not Scott is ever going to apologize to Wayne Selden, Wichita State’s tournament hopes, Texas A&M and whether we’d take Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine today.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here. It’s the quickest way to get access on your cell phone or tablet.