Jahlil Okafor has always followed in Jabari Parker's footsteps. Now, with both having completed their dreams of making it to the NBA, they'll meet on the game's biggest stage for the first time tonight.
The last time the pair played against one another - March 8, 2013 - Parker's Simeon Wolverines knocked off Okafor's Whitney Young Dolphins, 69-51, in the IHSA 4A sectional. Parker, then a 17-year-old senior, scored 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the victory. Okafor, a junior making a name for himself on the national scene, scored 13 points in the season-ending loss.
Parker's Simeon teams met Okafor's Whitney Young squads six times in the three seasons the duo overlapped (2011-2013) in high school, with the elder Parker owning a 5-1 record against Okafor. Parker averaged 14.3 points in those games, while Okafor averaged 12.5 points in the last four games they squared off. Those in attendance during the three-year span included mayor Rahm Emmanuel, collegiate head coaches Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski, Simeon alum Derrick Rose, and Anthony Davis.
That last meeting also was Okafor's last chance to dethrone Parker, the All-American and eventual McDonald's National Player of the Year, from winning a fourth straight title. Parker went on to win that state title in 2013, earning Mr. Basketball honors in Illinois for the second consecutive season.
The following year Parker arrived on campus at Duke, earning 2014 first team All-American honors after averaging 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds in 35 games. His season was somewhat clouded by an exit in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it squarely placed Parker in the thick of things as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
While Parker was having his way with ACC opponents in Durham, the senior Okafor was ready for his turn in the Chicago spotlight. His top-ranked Whitney Young squad went 28-5, and behind Okafor's dominance earned the program's third state title. Okafor averaged 24.2 points and 11.3 rebounds, was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois and named a McDonald's All-American, all the same as Parker had done a year earlier.
Okafor also pledged his commitment to Coach K and Duke, arriving months after Parker had made the decision to jump to the NBA. But Okafor and the country's top-ranked recruiting class wound up fine without Parker's help, going 35-4 and winning the NCAA title, the fifth for Krzyzewski. Okafor was the country's best big man, averaging 17.3 points on 66 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds.
The No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Parker saw his season cut short after he tore his ACL in mid-December, cutting his 2014-15 rookie season short just 25 games in. He hasn't played since, missing the Bucks' preseason slate despite head coach Jason Kidd being pleased with the Chicago native's progress. He has missed the Bucks' first four games of the year but will debut tonight in Milwaukee, likely on a strict minutes limit.
He'll square off against his Windy City rival when the Philadelphia 76ers come to town. Okafor, selected with the No. 3 pick in June's draft, has averaged 20.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in a superb start for the rebuilding Sixers (0-3).
It'll be yet another exciting chapter for two of the most storied athletes in Chicago preps history. Below is the pair after meeting on the court for the first time in 2011.