Jahlil Okafor was one of the stars of Duke’s 2015 national championship team. Arriving as a McDonald’s All-American and one of the top prospects in the recruiting class, he lived up to expectations as a Blue Devil. Okafor won ACC Player of the Year and National Freshman of the Year while leading Duke to a national title.
He went on to be taken third overall in the NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers after going one-and-done at Duke. Okafor had some off-court trouble as a rookie. Among other things, he was stopped for driving over 100 mph on the Ben Franklin Bridge and charged with reckless driving. He also allegedly got into an altercation at a bar and tried to hit a heckler through an open car window.
Now with the New Orleans Pelicans, Okafor is working to rebuild his reputation as he continues his NBA career.
Appearing on Philadelphia sports radio WIP’s morning show, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked about Okafor’s struggles with the 76ers and was very open and frank in discussing them.
“Jahlil is a youngster that had to go (to the NBA), because of the economics,” he said. “He was going to be a top-three pick. Jahlil is one of the really great kids I’ve had the opportunity to coach. He has a pure heart. Now away from that, Jahlil’s maturity … This doesn’t mean he’s immature. He needed to be part of a village longer. He’s a kid that could have been here three, four years and would have never gone through (the problems). We all go through things when were 18, 22—some of us do it the rest of our lives—that are new, and if we’re not in a structure or environment that can help us more. Not saying the Sixers didn’t. It’s on Jahlil. He didn’t have that. He made mistakes that he would never make. That happens all the time. I see it all the time, not just athletes but kids on campus. They have freedom. It’s their first time away from home. In his case, you’ve get money.”
Okafor was also still a teenager, trying to play alongside grown men in the NBA, which caused off-court stresses as well.
“In the NBA, one of the main things you fight is loneliness,” Krzyzewski said. “You don’t have that family structure. You’re playing with guys they have families. They go to work. They’re good guys, but it’s not there. He needed that. When he didn’t have it, he made mistakes he’s responsible for. No one else is responsible for that. If you’re going to man up, you’re responsible for what you do. It even took him—when he went to Brooklyn, he had a hard time. He had to recover. He has now. We stayed with him throughout. I talked to Trajan Langdon, the GM of the Pelicans (and former Duke player). He’s raved about Jah. He still has to transform his game to the NBA. As far as a role model (he’s been) the best. Not (just) good. I’m proud of him, because he’s learned from the mistakes he made. It’s not on the 76ers. It’s on him, and he’s taken responsibility. Once he took responsibility it was the start of him changing and conquering some of the bad habits he had.”