Cubs

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.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.