Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, others shine at Jordan Brand Classic
NEW YORK -- The top high school prospects in the country were on display Friday night at Barclays Center for the Jordan Brand Classic national game. The East topped the West, 158-147.
But in a game in which neither team was particularly committed to playing defense -- Mike Bethea, the coach of the West, said at the postgame news conference, "Defense was out the window" -- the outcome isn’t all that important. What college hoops fans are interested in are the players who shined. Here are four:
The nation’s top-ranked recruit did not back down in the face of elite competition. Scouts believe Okafor is among the most offensively polished high school big men of the past decade. On Friday night, he showed off an array of scoring moves, from nifty layups to powerful dunks. Any Duke fans who tuned in had to be excited by what they saw from their likely starting center next season. Okafor, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the East team, scored a game-high 29 points on 13-of-17 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds. While Jabari Parker will move on to the NBA, the Blue Devils, with Okafor, won’t lack for star power. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound center is considered a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Kansas’ frontcourt will be in good shape next season whether or not the Jayhawks land five-star center Myles Turner, the nation’s top uncommitted prospect. Alexander is an explosive athlete who excels on both ends of the floor. His ability to block shots and attack the rim have garnered plenty of attention – he is ranked as the No. 4 player in the class of 2014 by Rivals – and he should have plenty of success in college. Though Alexander needs to refine his mid-range game, he is a force around the basket and protects the rim well. He scored 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots in earning the West Team's Most Valuable Player Award. After the game, Alexander said he hoped Turner, who is scheduled to announce his college decision on April 30, would join him in Lawrence next season. "Hopefully we get Myles Turner to fulfill Joel's spot," he said. Alexander also said he, fellow Kansas signee Kelly Oubre and former Kansas center Joel Embiid, who was sitting courtside, have lobbied Turner to pick Kansas. "He says he's just weighing out his options right now," Alexander said. "Me, Kelly and Joel have been talking to him. Joel talked to him earlier today at the hotel, trying to get him to commit. Hopefully he does that."
SMU narrowly missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid this season, but with Mudiay entering the fold, the Mustangs have an excellent shot to make the field in 2014. What separates Mudiay from other point guards in this class – which also features elite floor generals Tyus Jones and Tyler Ulis, both participants in the Jordan Brand national game – is his elite athleticism and ability to create his own shot. The guards on the East team had trouble staying in front of Mudiay as he slashed to the basket and finished in traffic. Mudiay also showed off his passing skills when, while driving toward the basket midway through the first half, he bounced a behind the back pass to Stanley Johnson for a layup. Early in the second half, forward D'Angelo Russell, dribbling beyond the three-point line, lofted a pass near the rim; Mudiay leapt to catch the ball and, while executing a 360-degree twirl, jammed it through the basket with one hand. Mudiay finished with 19 points and six assists.
Stanley JohnsonOne of the biggest reasons Arizona is being slotted near the top of way, way too early Top 25 projections is the arrival of Johnson, a versatile 6-foot-7 forward from Fullerton, Calif. He played several positions – including point guard in his senior year – while starring at storied Mater Dei (Calif.) High and should make a big impact for the Wildcats next season. Johnson set the tone early on Friday night, knocking down a three-point shot within the first minute (he knocked down another trey less than one minute after halftime). Even as his team fell behind by double digits in the second half, Johnson, who tallied 24 points and dished out three assists, exhibited a certain intensity other players lacked. Rivals.com ranks Johnson as the No. 3 player in the class of 2014.