The U.S. U19 roster was cut to 16 on Sunday, and Jahlil Okafor and close friend 6-6 Justise Winslow are the lone prep players still in the mix for the USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Championship Team.
So far in practices, Okafor has been battling college big men such as Shaq Goodwin of Memphis, Jarnell Stokes of Tennessee, Robert Carter of Georgia Tech and Montrezl Harrell of Louisville.
“It’s been very competitive playing with all these college guys and I’m working very hard and it’s been a lot of fun,” Okafor told SNY.tv Sunday morning by phone from Colorado Springs. Colo.
Last summer, Okafor, out of Chicago Whitney Young, won a gold medal at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship and was named tournament MVP.
Now, he’s trying to jump up to the U19 group, which will cut its roster from 16 to 12 at some future date.
“It would mean a lot for them to consider me as one of the top players here with all the top college players,” Okafor said. “And knowing that a lot of these guys could’ve went in the NBA if they chose to, but they stayed in college. So if I was able to make the cut, it would mean a lot to me and knowing a lot of my hard work is paying off.”
As roommates, Okafor said he and Winslow have discussed possibly playing together in college, along with Minnesota point guard Tyus Jones.
“That would be ideal if everybody’s situation to work out and we all end up at the same college, that would be perfect,” Okafor said. “But at the end of the day we have to do what’s best for each other.”
Okafor recently trimmed his list to eight schools: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Jones is also considering Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota.
The two will take a visit to Baylor at the end of August, and it’s possible Winslow could join them on the visit.
“I mean, it’s something we talk about,” Winslow told SNY.tv of the potential package. “All three of us have to do what’s best for us, and if it just so happens that we all go to the same school, then that will be great.”
Still, the perception by many is that Okafor and Jones will end up at Duke together.
“That’s a rumor, I’m not committed yet,” Okafor said. “That’s a rumor.”
Okafor said he’s still considering all the schools on his list.
For now, Okafor is intent on making the final cut. And if he does, he believes it will improve his game going forward.
“A lot better, not just playing competition but the practices playing against the best players in college basketball and also with the coaches, the guidance, we have some of the best coaches in the country helping me develop,” Okafor said. “So it will really help improve me a lot.”
Duke and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski — who is recruiting Okafor and Winslow and also coaches U19 player Rasheed Sulaimon — spoke to the group along with his assistant, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
“[They said] at the 19 level we haven’t been as successful as we wish,” Okafor said. “All the other levels of USA Basketball have been exceptionally successful except for 19-year-olds, so they just wanted to let us know that our expectation is always the gold medal.”
**For more stories on the USA U19 & U16 teams, click here.