McDonalds: Okafor Powers West

Justin Jackson (left) shared MVP honors with Jahlil Okafor at the 2014 McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago. Jackson scored a game-high 23 points and Okafor scored a team-high 17 points.

Justin Jackson (left) shared MVP honors with Jahlil Okafor at the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago. Jackson scored a game-high 23 points and Okafor scored a team-high 17 points. Photo: Ronnie Flores

Local product and national player of the year candidate Jahlil Okafor helps his West team win and takes co-MVP honors at the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago. West’s Emmanuel Mudiay (15 points) and Rashad Vaughn (14 points) also stand out.

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CHICAGO — Jahlil Okafor received the loudest ovation from a crowd of 17, 116 at the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game in his hometown of Chicago — and he didn’t disappoint. The 6-foot-11 Duke-center from Whitney Young (Chicago) has already took home some national player of the year awards and you can add McDonald’s Game MVP to his mantle.

Okafor’s thunderous one-handed dunk with 40 seconds remaining gave his team a 103-102 lead and turned out to be the game-winning points in the West team’s 105-102 victory over the East team at the United Center. Okafor made 8-of-15 field goals and finished with a game-high 17 points and added 7 rebounds.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for one of the nation’s best players. He led Whitney Young to the Class 4A state title and was the media darling of McDonald’s week. He played well throughout the week and was ecstatic with its outcome.

“I really wanted to win this game…to win one last game in Chicago,” said Okafor. “It’s been a crazy two weeks for me. We won state two weeks ago and I got chills when the crowed cheered for me during the introduction.”

Okafor, along with power forward Cliff Alexander of Curie (Chicago), is being mentioned by local media among Chicago’s all-time great high school players and Okafor seemed relieved that his two last games at home broke in his favor.

“It a real blessing to be mentioned, along with Cliff, with names such as Anthony Davis and Jabari Parker,” Okafor said. “I hadn’t won a state title and I really didn’t want to finish my career without one.”

Okafor and his West teammates blew out the East in Tuesday’s scrimmage and were the prohibitive favorites coming into the game. The East turned that around in the game with lively legs and a great all-around effort. It out shot the West 48 percent (43-of-89) to 41 percent (43-of 101) and out rebounded them, 57-53, and had an opportunity to win in the final minute.

North Carolina-bound Justin Jackson (HCYA, Houston) missed a field goal attempt with 25 seconds to go and after the West’s Kelly Oubre Jr. (Findlay Prep, Henderson, Nev.) made two free throws to give his team a 3-point lead, the East’s James Blackmon Jr. (13 points) missed an off-balance 3-point attempt in the final seconds. There was a lot of contact on Blackmon Jr.’s lower body on the field goal attempt, but no whistle.

Jackson led all scorers in the first half with 10 points as the East held a 51-50 lead. The 6-foot-8 wing finished with a game-high 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting.

“Yesterday in the scrimmage we basically got blown out, so the coaches challenged us to get out and run,” Jackson said.

The East’s third double-digit scorer was Ohio St.-bound shooting guard D’Angelo Russell of Student Sports FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) with 11 points. The East’s Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn.) finished with a game-high 10 assists.

There was some question if Alexander would play for the East. He had a wrist Contusion and sat out Tuesday but suited up in Wednesday night’s game and made an impact. He tied with East teammate Kevon Looney (Milwaukee Hamilton, Milwaukee, Wis.) with a game-high 11 rebounds, added nine points and in his no non-sense demeanor, said afterwards his wrist was a non-factor. Along press row, it did appear to hinder his ability to finish around the rim.

“It got a lot better since yesterday…there are no excuses,” Alexander said.

“There was no doubt in my mind he would play,” Okafor said. “I know it affected his play.”

UNLV-bound Rashad Vaughn joined Kansas-bound and Findlay Prep teammate Oubre Jr. (11 points, 7 rebounds) in double-digits with 14 points. He made to 3-pointers and added five rebounds. SMU-bound point guard Emanuel Mudiay also was a big factor for the victorious West with his size and ability to create shots. Mudiay finished with 15 points.

The West has won two consecutive McDonald’s Games, but the East still leads the all-time series 19-18.

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