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December 21, 2012

City of Palms: Okafor comes to play

MORE: Thursday at the City of Palms

Friday's action at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., provided several standout performances and one classic game. The little-known team from Utah might be the talk of the town, but no star shined brighter than the nation's No. 1 2014 prospect.

Bigger and better

After his team lost an overtime heartbreaker to Montverde (Fla.) Academy on Thursday, 2014's top prospect, five-star Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young center Jahlil Okafor, was determined not to let his team take another loss. But to do that Okafor would have to lead his team against one of the nation's best-kept secrets in Omaha (Neb.) Central and four-star power forward Akoy Agau, a Louisville signee.

Coming off a performance that Okafor described as just all right against five-star center Dakari Johnson, Okafor came out with even more fire in his belly, dominating the game with 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, while shooting an efficient 11-for-14 from the field.

Not only did Okafor display his usual patient offensive feel and scoring ability around the rim, but he also proved that when the double-team comes he is one of the better passing big men in the nation. Also a poised finisher in traffic, Rivals.com was equally impressed with how consistently Okafor finishes around the rim and with how soft he can shoot the ball high off the glass through contact.

After the game, Okafor told reporters that North Carolina has been recruiting him the hardest as of late and that he also would like to take trips soon to Kentucky and Michigan State.

"North Carolina in particular is coming at me hard, but there are a lot of schools," Okafor said. "I talk to coach Roy Williams a lot. I really like North Carolina. The rich tradition with guys like Michael Jordan makes it great.

"I've kind of backed away from the recruiting process lately; most of the calls have been going through my dad."

When asked about Kentucky, Okafor was quick to bring up a pair of fellow Chicago natives who have had great success with Wildcats coach John Calipari.

"I've talked to Coach Calipari and a couple of their assistants a couple of times recently," Okafor said. "There are a lot of positives to say with what Kentucky has done with guys like Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose."

Reflecting on the recent commitment of AAU teammate Jabari Parker to Duke, Okafor said, "It won't have any effect on my decision, but Duke is a school that I'm looking at, so Jabari will be able to give me the inside scoop."

Okafor elaborated on his relationship with Parker, saying that the Chicago (Ill.) Simeon small forward has become like a mentor to him, even though Parker is just one grade ahead of Okafor.

"(Being ranked No. 1 in his class) puts a target on your back; that's something I learned from Jabari," Okafor said. "We always have that conversation. He's like my brother, and he's experienced everything that I'm experiencing."

Not to be left out of the spotlight from the game, which ended in a thrilling, three-point Whitney Young victory, Agau finished with 14 points, including three deep 3-point shots. The Louisville signee struggled some in the post when matched against Okafor, but he showed a rare skill package with that type of touch and a mobile, 6-foot-9 frame.

Also for Whitney Young, the play of 2014 guard Miles Reynolds needs mentioning. A passionate slashing guard with a good jump shot, Reynolds finished with 15 points and provided much of the emotional leadership in the win.

Quick hitters

To say that Highland (Utah) Lone Peak has been dominant in Fort Myers would be an understatement. Nick Emery won the 3-point shootout and Eric Mika won the dunk contest, but on the court it was the play of 2014 four-star wing T.J. Haws that had fans stirring. The junior shooting guard, who is committed to BYU, is not only one of the best shooters and passers in the event; he's also arguably the most confident. In a win over Memphis (Tenn.) Southwind, Haws knocked down four 3-pointers en route to a game-high 24 points as he quickly became the fan favorite.

After Haws, the most impressive prospect in the Lone Peak vs Southwind game was 2013 four-star power forward Jonathan Williams III, a Missouri signee from Southwind. A long and nimble athlete, Williams is good at taking slower opponents to the rim off the bounce from the high post area. When he plays with energy, as he did on Friday, Williams can be absolutely dominant. In the loss, the 6-foot-9 forward finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

Montverde (Fla.) Academy will be Lone Peak's opponent in the championship round after it blew by Long Beach (Calif.) Poly in its semifinal game Friday night. Five-star center Dakari Johnson had another big game for Montverde, finishing with 17 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Playing against a more athletic but significantly lighter opponent in Rivals150 power forward Jordan Bell, Johnson did a nice job of using physicality to his advantage on both ends. Four-star power forward Devin Williams, a West Virginia signee, helped on the interior with 17 points in the win. He accumulated most of his baskets through low-post scores and putback plays.

Things might not have gone Long Beach Poly's way, but you can't take credit away from the play of four-star 2013 small forward Roschon Prince. The 6-foot-7 wing was the game's high scorer with 22 points, and he showed his range with three 3-pointers. Prince used his athletic ability to blow by the bigger but slower Montverde defenders. A tough-minded competitor, the Rivals150 forward should be a nice fit next year at USC, where he is signed.

The most complete performance of the day belonged to Chester (Pa.) five-star small forward Rondae Jefferson, who filled the stat sheet with 27 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks while shooting 11-for-14 from the field. An Arizona signee, Jefferson has exceptional athleticism for a 6-foot-7 wing, and he has a nice offensive feel for the transition game, where he can score with a dunk or find a teammate.

Local product Douglas Brooks of Lake Wales (Fla.), a 2013 three-star shooting guard, is one of the premiere shooters in Florida. With his team down big heading into the fourth, Brooks exploded for 18 points in the final quarter in finishing with 32 points, including eight 3-pointers. Look for Brooks to be a highly sought-after commodity in the late signing period with his size, shooting ability and confidence.

The City of Palms Classic is an event that will always be dominated by upperclassmen, but on Friday two younger players proved that they're up for the challenge. Five-star shooting guard Malik Newman, of Jackson (Miss.) Callaway, and four-star power forward Marcus Derrickson, of Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI had outstanding stretches in their team's wins. Newman showed why he is considered one of the best scoring guards, and possibly the No. 1, in the class of 2015. He knocked in 21 points, mostly on deep jumpers. Later, Derrickson played with good physicality, while showing some agility and shooting touch on the wing, in totaling 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. As Rivals.com continues to evaluate the 2015 class, look for Newman and Derrickson to be names that pop up.

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