HERE FOR THE TAK­ING

Jahlil Okafor says he loves L.A. So all that’s left is to see his name when Lak­ers make the No. 2 pick.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

The dreaming can start now.

On the first day of the next chap­ter, the gi­ant kid with the huge hands and deep voice showed up loaded for Laker.

So, Jahlil Okafor, what do you think about the pres­sure of be­ing the Lak­ers’ prob­a­ble No. 2 over­all draft pick? “Be­ing here in Lak­er­land, walk­ing around, a lot of Lak­ers fans say they want me here, telling me they want to win,” he said. “I love it.”

So, what do you think about the pres­sure of fol­low­ing in the his­toric foot­steps of past Lak­ers big men?

“They were all about win­ning, and when they came here, they won,” he said. “I’ll have some big shoes to step into, but I’m ready.”

OK, so can you turn this dread­ful team into a win­ner?

“Not by my­self, not on this level, not com­ing right in,” he said. “That’s why we have Kobe Bryant here.”

Smart an­swer. Sharp kid. He loves the pres­sure, em­braces the ex­pec­ta­tions, and is savvy enough to pay homage to the one guy who can make his life mis­er­able. Jahlil Okafor is not here yet, but he will prob­a­bly soon be, and as con­so­la­tion prizes go, this could feel a whole lot like first place.

The 19-year-old cen­ter on Duke’s na­tional ti­tle team showed up at El Se­gundo for a work­out Tues­day in ad­vance of the June 25 NBA draft in which he is ex­pected to fall to the Lak­ers,

who would be out of their minds not to snap him up.

The Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves are ex­pected to se­lect Ken­tucky cen­ter Karl-An­thony Towns with the first over­all pick be­cause he’s con­sid­ered bet­ter de­fen­sively with deeper po­ten­tial. That would leave the draft’s other big head­liner for the Lak­ers, which would be an ab­so­lute gift for a team that was sup­posed to pick fourth and a re­viv­ing jolt for a fran­chise that has spent two years dead asleep.

Okafor is 6 feet 11, 270 pounds and, while he doesn’t play de­fense like Towns, he is a big-city scorer with big-time cool. With his gi­ant hands, deft touch and nim­ble foot­work, he could prob­a­bly knock down 18 in an NBA game right now. He has been com­pared to a young Tim Dun­can, which means noth­ing be­fore he’s banked in his first pro shot, ex­cept that he does have that Dun­can thing for win­ning.

Okafor won a high school state cham­pi­onship last year in Chicago, a na­tional col­lege cham­pi­onship with the Blue Devils, and a bunch of in­ter­na­tional USA bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onships. He is now seem­ingly in­tent on win­ning the draft, which, to him, means com­ing to the Lak­ers, and he’s not shy about say­ing it.

So, what do you think about the pres­tige of be­ing the first over­all pick?

“I’ve al­ready said, be­ing the No. 1 pick is not that im­por­tant for me, it’s more so for the fan base,” Okafor said. “I just want to be in right po­si­tion with a team that wants me.”

When have you ever heard a po­ten­tial No. 1 dis­own the idea of be­ing No. 1? When he wants the No. 2 team to take him, that’s when. Okafor ap­pears to want to play for the Lak­ers so badly, it’s as if he’s ready to cede the draft ti­tle to Towns right now.

“He’s ob­vi­ously a great player, he’s def­i­nitely de­serv­ing of be­ing the No. 1 pick,” Okafor said of Towns.

So far, it ap­pears Towns is ready to ac­cept that crown and go to Min­nesota. He is the only po­ten­tial top-four pick who has not yet worked out for the Lak­ers, and they have had dif­fi­culty in pin­ning him down for a visit, which could mean that he al­ready knows he’s go­ing to join the Tim­ber­wolves, so what’s the use?

Okafor suf­fers from no such un­cer­tainty, say­ing, “I’m com­ing from Duke Uni­ver­sity … where the en­tire at­mos­phere is about win­ning. … That’s what the Laker or­ga­ni­za­tion is about, that’s what I want to be part of.”

When this colum­nist had the nerve to ask about his de­fen­sive de­fi­cien­cies, Okafor had the wit to fire back.

“I hear the crit­i­cism, but we won a na­tional cham­pi­onship at Duke, so it wasn’t that bad,” he said, grin­ning. “Coach K was fine with the way we played de­fense.”

He later ac­knowl­edged that he needs to work on all as­pects of his game, and that he would love to learn about the men­tal edge from Bryant, and that maybe some of those fa­mous big guys would show up with point­ers.

“Shaq was my fa­vorite, then there’s Ka­reem, I would love to be here, to have an op­por­tu­nity to learn from all those guys,” he said.

Here’s guess­ing that de­spite all of his cal­cu­lated public waf­fling, Lak­ers Gen­eral Manager Mitch Kupchak has also learned from those big guys and won’t even be tempted to use the sec­ond pick on trendy cool Ohio State guard D’An­gelo Rus­sell. Kupchak was quick to men­tion how to­day’s NBA now seems to be dom­i­nated by the smaller guys who con­trol the ball. But he was also quickly re­minded that when the Lak­ers have won cham­pi­onships, it’s al­ways been on the backs of a big man, a fact that sur­rounds Kupchak ev­ery day.

“That’s an ar­gu­ment, and that’s a good ar­gu­ment, we’ll have to see how that plays out,” Kupchak said Tues­day. “We have a lot of pho­tos in this build­ing, a lot of those jer­seys of big men that we re­tired.”

Kupchak paused. “But … it’s de­bat­able.”

Is it? If there’s one com­mod­ity that is im­pos­si­ble to find in to­day’s NBA, it’s big men. If there’s one draft where two big men need to be taken im­me­di­ately, it’s this one. True, point guards run the game, and the two teams in the NBA Fi­nals have cen­ters who have been mostly afterthoughts, but re­mem­ber how the Lak­ers found po­ten­tial star guard Jor­dan Clark­son in the sec­ond round last year? Great guards can be found any­where. Great cen­ters can be found al­most nowhere.

“No, you can not get a big man like him [Clark­son] in the sec­ond round,” said Kupchak, re­fer­ring to Clark­son’s im­pact.

Watch­ing Jimmy Buss tug on his base­ball cap and con­fer with Kupchak dur­ing the end of Okafor’s work­out Tues­day, it was com­fort­ing to re­al­ize that no mat­ter what hap­pens, it will be nearly im­pos­si­ble for the Lak­ers to mess this up.

As Okafor’s sweaty pres­ence in a Lak­ers prac­tice jer­sey con­firmed Tues­day, go ahead, it’s all good, the dreaming can start now.

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

JAHLIL OKAFOR, who won a high school state ti­tle and an NCAA cham­pi­onship at Duke, isn’t in­tim­i­dated about the Lak­ers’ his­tory of big men and isn’t wor­ried about be­ing the No. 1 pick.

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