KAUNAS (2012 FIBA U17 World Championship) – The United States are ready to face off against Australia in the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship Final with the hopes of defending their title. And one of the biggest reasons the Americans have reached this stage is superstar center Jahlil Okafor.
The Chicago native is Team USA’s leading scorer (13.1 points) and second-leading rebounder (8.3 rebounds) despite playing just 19 minutes a game. He is also considered one of the top players in his age group in the United States.
FIBA.com talked to Okafor after the Americans’ Semi-Final victory over Spain about reaching the Final; facing a tough game against Spain; meeting LeBron James and Kareem Abdul Jabbar; and what he needs to improve most on his game.
FIBA: First of all, congratulations on reaching the final, where you expected to be. What are your thoughts on that?
Okafor: We started this process two years ago in October 2010. We started to bring this team together with our first training camp. And this was our goal the whole time.
FIBA: This was a tough game to play for you with the early foul trouble, how do you respond to a game like this?
Okafor: It’s great for us. We need to learn from adversity. Every team we played we just blew by them. So I think this is good for our character and how tough we are as a team.
FIBA: How much does a tough game like this help the team?
Okafor: We knew that going to the gold medal game that nothing would be easy. Coach always told us this will not be a cakewalk. We knew that there would be some team that would challenge us. And Spain was that.
FIBA: Looking through your bio it says the best player you ever faced was LeBron James. What’s the story behind that?
Okafor: I went to his Nike camp last year. He invites some of the top high school players in America to go out there. It was great. I played with him and against him. There is really nothing you can do against him. He’s just so strong and so fast. There’s really nothing you can do. I just felt useless.
FIBA: What was the biggest thing you take out of that?
Okafor: Just that I have a long way to go to be where he’s at. So I just have to keep working.
FIBA: You also have met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. What was that like?
Okafor: It was amazing. He came up to my high school I sat with him in the car on the way to his hotel for about 40 minutes. He just talked to me about life and stressed to me about education and talked to me a little bit about his sky hook came about.
FIBA: You thinking about putting that into your game?
Okafor: I can try. But that’s a tough shot, it’s pretty difficult
FIBA: Speaking of adding something to your game, you seem very polished already. What areas do you want to work on or need to work on?
Okafor: Free-throws. That’s something I keep struggling with. I have to be more consistent at the free-throw line. I miss a lot of those. I also need to work on being more of a defensive threat. I know I can score, but once I get the defensive side down I think I’ll be a great player.