NEW YORK - It isn’t news that Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones wanted to go to college together.
What became news on Friday is the fact that Okafor chose Duke with the thinking that two of its best players wouldn’t be there.
Freshman phenom and projected top-3 NBA Draft pick Jabari Parker declared for the draft on Thursday. Blue Devils sophomore forward Rodney Hood followed Parker officially followed Hood out the door on Friday. When Okafor committed to Duke head coach Mike Kryzyzewski on Nov. 15 along with Jones, he did so never expecting to count either as a teammate.
“Seeing Jabari and Rodney leave, I was really happy for them,” Okafor said after netting East MVP honors with 29 points and nine rebounds in a 158-147 win over the West at the Jordan Brand Classic. “In all honesty, when I decided to go to Duke, I wasn’t expecting Jabari to be there, or even Rodney, so it wasn’t really too surprising for me. I’m happy for those guys.”
Krzyzewski will not be starving for talent or attention in 2014-15 and Friday night was the proof. Headlined by Okafor, Duke’s entire 2014 recruiting class was on display. Okafor, Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen combined for 59 points and 25 rebounds.
Okafor, Jones and Winslow were on the winning East squad, while Allen was on a West team that featured Arizona-bound Stanley Johnson and Kansas commit Cliff Alexander, who won MVP honors.
Despite the defections of Parker and Hood, Duke figures to begin next season as a consensus top-3 team. The Blue Devils could be No. 1 in the country depending on what Kentucky looks like in the wake of the Harrison twins deciding what to do.
Regardless of where it opens the season ranked, the bottom line is Duke is going to be very good with a crop of standout freshman playing a big role. “
“I think we’ll be very good, especially with myself, Tyus, Justise and Grayson,” Okafor said. “We all decided to go to Duke because we thought that would give us the best opportunity to win.”