Boys Basketball: Tyler Ulis among Chicago-area products who sparkle in McDonald’s All-American game
By Michael O’Brien For Sun-Times Media April 2, 2014 11:18PM
Tyler Ulis runs the floor during the in the McDonald's All-American Game. | Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:32AM
Legacy is an odd thing for a teenager to think about. Rarely does anyone have to worry about the mark he or she has left on the world before turning 20.
That’s exactly what was on Jahlil Okafor’s mind this month. The 18-year-old wanted a state championship. He went out and won one. He wanted to end his high school career as a winner. He accomplished that Wednesday night at the United Center, leading the West to a 105-102 win over the East in front of 17,116 fans in the McDonald’s All-American game.
“I’ve definitely been thinking about my legacy,” Okafor said. “I’ve been asked the question a lot. That was one of the motivating factors for the state championship.”
Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander were introduced last, the local heroes and headlining stars of the game.
“I had chills when the crowd started cheering for me,” Okafor said. “I really wanted to win this game, it being my last time playing in Chicago as a high schooler.”
Okafor finished with 17 points (8-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds. His dunk with 38 seconds to play put the West ahead for good.
“I just had to make sure I wasn’t too caught up in my thoughts,” Okafor said. “I had to make sure to go out and have fun.”
Okafor shared co-MVP honors with Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas), who scored a game-high 23 points. Okafor is the first local player to win MVP honors since Eddy Curry in 2001. Okafor has spent his entire career being compared to Curry, the area’s last great post player.
“I didn’t know he won the award,” Okafor said. “With the game being in my city I thought it would be nice to have.”
Alexander played the game with a brace on his right wrist. He injured it Monday in the dunk contest. The 6-foot-9 Kansas recruit scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds but missed two dunks.
“No excuses,” he said. “The wrist felt fine, a lot better than (Tuesday). I was just missing dunks.”
Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis played with Okafor on the West. Ulis scored five and dished off three assists.
“To be honest I didn’t even notice the big crowd,” said Ulis, the two-time SouthtownStar Player of the Year. “It was just a game to me once it got started.”
Ulis and Okafor seemed to have instant chemistry. Ulis found Okafor for a dunk midway through the first half, part of a 9-0 run. With all the points coming from Ulis and Okafor.
It was interesting to watch. Ulis spent his entire high school career without a big man on his team. This game provided a preview of what his floor sense and passing ability will contribute to the high-level athletes he will team with at Kentucky.
“It was great,” Ulis said. “(Okafor) is humongous. You just get him the ball and he will finish every time.”