You have all heard the big recruiting news of the day, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones chose to go to Duke. The fact that two top prospects chose to go to Duke should not come as a surprise to anyone — Duke gets top players every year — the surprise should be that two young men made a basketball decision based on one another.
Sure, there have been many of years when several highly recruited guys end up on the same team. This year alone we have the six freshmen at Kentucky, the big three at Kansas and in years past there were John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins going to Kentucky, and the Fab Five at Michigan.
The difference with Okafor and Jones is that they chose to go to the same college together; the other scenarios were talented individuals choosing to play at a specific school or for a specific coach. Each one of them made up their minds independently of a decision made by anyone else. Okafor and Jones committed to each other before they committed to Duke, and that is rare in today’s NCAA basketball.
The idea of these two forming a pact to play together happened when they were both playing for the United States, preparing for the FIBA Americas Championship. Okafor and Jones played for the under-16 and under-17 USA squads that both won gold medals at the FIBA Americas. Sometime between practicing and playing the two formed and bonded, and decided since they were the No. 1 big (Okafor) and No. 1 point guard (Jones) in their class, they would join forces in college. I mean, why not? The tandem has won two gold medals together, why not add another notch in their belt with an NCAA Championship, and go down as the greatest amateur basketball duo of all time?
Greg Oden and Mike Conley are the closest comparison that I can come up with for the Okafor/Jones duo. Oden and Conley grew up buddies, they played on the same AAU teams, the same high school teams and both went to Ohio State. Okafor and Jones did not play on the same high school team, the same AAU team or even in the same state — Okafor is from Chicago and Jones if from Apple Valley, Minn. — but these two decided they are better together than apart, and that is what makes their situation similar to Conley and Oden. Where the Oden/Conley comparison is different, because Okafor and Jones hadn’t played together until they were roughly 16 years old, it works because in today’s social media driven world, two people can remain friends even when they aren’t face to face. Oden and Conley were best friends, they saw each other everyday, and talked everyday. The same is true for Okafor and Jones; thanks to modern technology, they were able to keep up with each other, continue to grow their friendship and feel completely comfortable with making a major decision together.
Okafor and Jones might have a bond off the court similar to Oden and Conely, but they are going to be behind in terms of on-court familiarity. Okafor and Jones have played together many times, but not in the same type of team setting as Oden and Conley. All-star games, and USA games with top-flight talent all over the place isn’t the same as properly running the set that Mike Krzyzewski wants you to run.
Oden and Conley were able to parlay their friendship into an NCAA Finals appearance; will Okafor and Jones be able to do the same? Only time will tell, but to quote the American classic Casablanca regarding Okafor and Jones, “Louis, I think this is the beginning to a beautiful friendship.”
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.