We had an interesting debate with Mike DeCourcy via Twitter during the Duke-Michigan State game, after DeCourcy wondered what people who were skeptical about Jahlil Okafor being named the preseason Player Of The Year thought now.
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That applied to us, not because we're skeptical of Okafor but rather the whole idea of naming a freshman the preseason Player Of The Year. You have to prove it first.
The most extreme recent example of this is Harrison Barnes, who was named First Team All-America before he ever played a game.
As Barry Jacobs points out in his article today, only eight freshmen have ever made First Team All-ACC.
That doesn't include Barnes. He was the ACC Rookie Of The Year in 2011, but only Second Team All-ACC. Still not bad, but hardly what he was hyped to be.
As it turned out, Barnes wasn't even the best college player from his high school team: that turned out to be Doug McDermott, who was sensational at Creighton, making First Team All-America three times and National Player Of The Year in 2014.
So like everyone else, we're extremely impressed with Okafor, who through three games is averaging 17.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.7 blocks and a steal. He's also shooting a phenomenal .833 from the floor.
His footwork and his ability (and willingness) to pass make him truly remarkable. Yet we would be remiss if we didn't point out that the stats have been compiled at the expense of lesser or smaller opponents.
Neither Presbyterian nor Fairfield had a player anywhere near Okafor's level; Michigan State is traditionally strong and powerful inside, but not so much this year. Tom Izzo primarily used Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling. Both are big guys, but neither has established himself as an elite player, much less defender. And Okafor had two inches about 25 pounds on both of them.
As we said, we're not knocking him. Far from it. But bigger tests await. Frank Kaminsky is ahead in a couple of weeks. UConn is not far behind. And in ACC play, he'll see a number of challenging big players.
We don't expect him to continue to shoot .833, in other words. His percentage will remain high, but not that high. And seeing how he handles the defense that will come from Clemson, Virginia, Syracuse, Florida State and Syracuse, among others, will be fascinating (and of course those teams will be compiling tape and making plans for how best to limit him).
Clearly, we're seeing a young player with unreal potential. Stephen A. Smith compared him to NBA players during ESPN's coverage of the Michigan State game the other night.
And Izzo was also highly impressed: "I wasn't disappointed in (our defense on him), I was impressed with him," Izzo told the Detroit News. "I mean, you've just got to love a guy that wants to be what he is. He's a center that wants to be a center. You know, most centers now used to want to be power forwards and now they want to be (shooting) guards. So you've got to give him credit. He is what he is. He wants to be that. And I think they play off him pretty good. And I think you're gonna see them going to him a lot more. Because he is a phenomenal passer."