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Could Whitney Young's Okafor be No. 1 prep player for 2014?

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Could Whitney Young's Okafor be No. 1 prep player for 2014?

It has never happened before -- even when Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas were the top-rated players in the Chicago area in 1978 and 1979. The Windy City has never produced the No. 1 player in the nation in successive classes.

It could happen this season.

Simeon's Jabari Parker already is acknowledged as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013.

Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor is making a determined bid to claim the No. 1 spot in the class of 2014.

"He will impact the high school game in ways that no other player has in this state," Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said earlier this year. "He is as polished a post player as you will see. Eddy Curry and Rashard Griffith were not at his level at the same time on offense."

Will he be as good as Russell Cross as a defensive player? Will he be as good as Anthony Davis? Will he be good enough to be the next high school sensation to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated?

Longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com reports that Okafor "has clearly passed" 6-foot-10 Dakari Johnson of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to become the top big man in the class of 2014 and has closed the gap between himself and 6-foot-7 Andrew Wiggins of Toronto, Canada, who plays at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, as the No. 1 player.

"He has soft hands, great touch on his shot and phenomenal footwork for a player with his size and body," Coleman said. "He is an efficient player -- he shot 7-of-9 from the floor in a game we watched -- and he just needs to continue to work on his explosion off the floor to reach the full potential of his skill set."

Coleman said Okafor has a body and style similar to Jared Sullinger. "But he is bigger and more low block-oriented than Sullinger. He can pop and hit the jumper or attack other bigs off the dribble. But he is at his best using his feet around the hoop. He has size more comparable to Eddy Curry in high school. But his game reminds me more of Sullinger," he said.

Is he better than Anthony Davis, the former Chicago Perspectives product who starred at Kentucky as a freshman and likely will be the No. 1 selection in the upcoming NBA draft?

"He has better low block offensive tools than Davis entering Davis' senior year in high school and is as accomplished as a rebounder," Coleman said. "But he doesn't affect a game like Davis on the defensive end, where Davis is a shot-blocking machine.

"And although Okafor has solid ball skills for a powerful big man, he doesn't have the same handle that Davis (a former guard) does, nor can he transition end to end like Davis. Still, he is an impact talent at the next level and a future professional talent at power forward or center."

Coleman agrees with those who contend that Okafor is ahead of Parker at the same stage of their careers, based on major college interest and overall performance.

"As Jabari was coming out of a body change (baby fat turning to muscle), it propelled him past Julius Randle to the top spot in the class of 2013 over the spring and summer," he said. "Jahlil still could make a similar upgrade physically since he does carry some of the same (baby fat) weight that takes away from vertical explosion, which would help him to be a more dominant defender."

In comparing big men, Coleman said Okafor ranks with Eddy Curry, Russell Cross, Rashard Griffith, Kevin Love, Jared Sullinger, Shawn Bradley, Sam Perkins and maybe even Anthony Davis (since he was such a late developer) in the second tier at this point. Clearly, he said, Okafor isn't in a class with Cross defensively.

"But Jahlil has another 18 months of development," Coleman said. "For now, however, he is behind the upper echelon that includes Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard and Greg Oden.

"Almost all of the top tier big men were dominating shot blockers who dominated on that end, regardless of their offensive prowess. They always had the ability to change the game due to that skill. Jahlil can become that type of player if he makes that a priority in the next six months heading into his senior season."

Slaughter agrees with Coleman's assessment. "I believe in the next two years he will be a phenomenal defensive player. After four years, we will say he not only is a great offensive player but a complete all-around player. He will impact the high school game in ways no other player has in this state," Slaughter said.

"When we talk about Russell Cross, we have to realize that the biggest learning curve for most young big players is learning defense, having to defend bigger players. Will he be better than Anthony Davis defensively? It will be a stretch. That's what Davis is best known for, to defend and block shots. But Okafor is a much better offensive player.

"Coming out of grade school, Jahlil was the biggest player on the floor. He needs to be in better condition and be able to defend bigger players. He is starting to focus on defense and rebounding. Remember, he only finished his sophomore year."

That's the scary part.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Daniel Gafford breaks out in loss to Bucks

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Daniel Gafford breaks out in loss to Bucks

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, Dave Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 115-101 loss to the Bucks.

0:45                        Reaction to breakout game from Daniel Gafford

3:30                        On Gafford getting limited minutes and not playing in the 4th quarter

7:00                        Viewer comment on sitting Markkanen

8:55                        Viewer comment on on Zach and Lauri

10:15                     On the rotations and bench play

12:45                     Viewer comment on Coby White long-term potential

14:30                     Dave needs to do a show with no hat?

16:15                     Viewer comment on Zach LaVine

18:00                     Viewer trade idea with Warriors

19:45                     Viewer comment brings back Rose memories

20:05                     Change the starting lineup?

22:05                     Viewer makes Sabine happy by referencing Doncic

23:10                     Matt Peck breaks his mic

25:00                     On the Bucks having fun before the Bulls game

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Coby White’s second straight 3-pointer splashed through the net — a three that, combined with a Ryan Arcidiacono long-ball, capped a 9-0 run to give the Bulls a one-point lead over the Bucks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to play.

For the second time in five days, the Bulls had an opportunity to knock off the Bucks, an Eastern Conference champion contender.

Then, reality hit. Or the starters returned. At this point, that’s one and the same.

Here’s all you need to know about where the Bulls’ rebuild stands as 'Year Three' fell to a 4-10 start following the Bucks’ 115-101 victory: Coach Jim Boylen admitted he considered riding a bench unit down the stretch over one that featured Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

“They have a guy that they can go to that can get them a bucket, which is what good teams have,” Boylen said, referring to the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I’ve been on those teams. We’re figuring out who that guy is and we’re learning to play that way. We’re not there yet.”

Boylen then supported his beleaguered core players, because that’s what he’s paid to do. But the sobering reality of the Bulls’ current fortunes didn’t just play out in LaVine’s stat line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, or Markkanen’s 9 points on 2-for-12.

It played out when Boylen indeed returned to LaVine and Markkanen with 5:04 remaining, and the Bucks leading 103-99. From that point, the Bulls didn’t score another field goal.

Markkanen sank two free throws but missed a driving layup and 13-foot jumper. LaVine committed a turnover, missed a layup and a 3-pointer.

Game, set and match.

“They got the MVP over there. He did his thing. And we didn’t,” LaVine said. “It’s going to be tough when your leading players, me and Lauri, don’t perform at our level. You can understand that. You’re missing a lot of points and a lot of plays. We understand we have to pick it up.”

What’s that they say? Recognition is the first step towards recovery. The Bulls have to hope so, especially after Markkanen admitted his slump is affecting him mentally.

“It’s frustrating knowing I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not even not hitting 3s but missing layups and dunks,” he said. “I have to keep my head up knowing that you work too hard for this not to turn around. Keep working and I know it’s going to turn around.

“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half. I tried to switch it up and make the plays for the team. That’s how you get out of your own head. I have to stay aggressive. Create contact and then finish every shot. Not getting out of it too early or anything like that. I’ve done my film study. Put the work in and I know it’s going to turn around.”

At one point, Markkanen actually missed two dunk attempts on the same possession. Following the second, he rolled his eyes toward the United Center roof as if to say, 'What’s next?'

Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He missed all four three-pointers he attempted versus the Bucks.

“Just try to get an easy bucket and lay it in. But having two 7-footers there, I know it’s going to be blocked so I tried to go up quick and end up missing it,” Markkanen said of the dunk sequence. “It was frustrating. I know I can play better. It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Antetokounmpo made 13 field goals, equaling the total of five Bulls starters. How do you say 'ouch' in Greek?

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to support those two guys. I’m going to coach them like I always have. I’m going to show it to them on film and we’re going to work on it in practice. We’re going to get them to understand that we believe in them, we value them and that we need to do better,” Boylen said. “It’s all part of this process. We’re slugging uphill right now. We gotta keep slugging. That’s all I can say.”

Boylen said he returned to LaVine and Markkanen because he still believes in them. He has to say that and he has to believe that. The rebuild is structured for them to shine.

It’s not currently happening.

“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He has basically played two years. I’m going to keep developing them to come in and learn how to win games. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”

Raising LaVine’s absence to an ACL injury and subsequent rehab is a curious approach from Boylen given that LaVine has been fully healthy and rehabbed for quite some time. But again, he has been placed in a position where he has to protect their play and lack of production in big moments.

The Bulls are a long way away from respectability at this point.

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