Jahlil Okafor was the proverbial (and literal) big-man-on-campus for Duke during their 2014-15 National Championship run. Okafor racked up nearly every accolade there is to be had in his lone NCAA season: First Team All-American, Naismith runner-up, ACC Player of the Year, you name it he won it. But he wants to make sure you know him as one thing: a winner.
Instead of resting on his laurels after dominating the college game, Okafor has gone back to work in the gym, preparing his body and skills for NBA-level competition. He’ll be facing a steep learning curve regardless–the road for NBA big men is treacherous–but you can believe he’ll be as prepared as humanly possible. Knowledge absorbed from coach Mike Krzyzewski? Supreme physical gifts and skills? He’s locked and loaded.
Jahlil was kind enough to take a break from draft prep to sit down and chat about the work he’s putting in, how he prepares for games, and some of his style choices on and off the court. Take a few minutes and get to know him before he’s dunking all over your favorite team.
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I’ve seen some video. You’re hitting the gym pretty hard I take it?
I’m hitting the weights, I’m hittin the gym, working out about three times a day.
It looks like you lost some weight since the season ended. Has that been an emphasis in training for the next level?
I’m like 270 right now, so it’s about the same weight that I was during the season. I guess it just looks a little different, but I really haven’t dropped weight.
You were known for your post game at Duke, but is there anything specific you’re trying to add right now? I’m sure Coach K had some tips for you.
I learned a lot from Coach K. I spent a year under his belt, we went through a lot together…definitely learned a lot from him. There’s not one specific thing that can help me at the next level, I think I have to improve every aspect of my game.
When you’re in the gym, are you a guy who needs to listen to music when you’re getting into your zone?
Yeah, I like to listen to music before games. John Legend, some Drake, Alicia Keys, I have a few artists I listen to.
Sounds like you’re trying to mellow out before tip.
Yeah that’s what I usually do, I try to calm myself down. I have enough energy and I’m hyped enough heading to the game. I like to settle my emotions down a little bit. I grew up listening to R&B with my mother and my father, so I like it.
I heard a rumor you got into a little bit of music in high school.
I played the tuba my freshman year of high school.
Did you stick with it? Play any instruments these days?
I just listen to it now.
Let’s switch gears. We’re obviously big sneaker people at Champs Sports. I know I saw you in Hyperposites during the National Championship, but you sprinkled some other shoes in throughout the year. Have a favorite on-court?
My favorite one is the LeBron X. They’re very comfortable.
What about in your downtime? What’s the shoe rotation like?
I have a nice array of different shoes that I wear. I don’t have a set rotation, but I have bunch of shoes; a bunch of Jordans, a bunch of Air Maxes, some adidas. I don’t really have a preference.
You’re a Chicago guy. Is there anything that’s particularly hot in Chicago right now as far as fashion or shoes that you brought to Duke?
Sneakers [are] always the prominent thing in the city of Chicago, but I feel kind of out of the loop because I haven’t been there for the past year and a half. I’ve been traveling and at Duke. But sneakers are always the prominent thing.
Did you pick up anything while you were down south? I have some friends down there, they tend to be a little dressier.
Nope, I just wore a lot more Duke stuff than I did in the past. (laughs)
Speaking of Duke gear–I noticed you went back and forth between wearing shirts/sleeves under your jersey this year. Was that any sort of superstition thing, or do you not really think about it that much?
I started out doing the no T-shirt, and then Justise [Winslow] and I decided we wanted to wear a T-shirt under our jerseys just for the fun of it, a different look. Justise did it for two or three games, but then he stopped because he wasn’t comfortable with it; it was hurting his jump shot or whatever. I kept doing it after, and then there was one game I took my undershirt off against Florida State. I felt weird without it so I went back to it.
Do you think you’ll keep doing that in the pros, or is that something you’ll leave in college because it was a thing between you and Justise?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. And it wasn’t just me and Justise. Actually, Stanley Johnson from Arizona, it was kind of a thing we all did together.
Like a bonding sort of deal?
Yeah, I think Stanley tweeted something like “T-shirt mob” at some point.
You won and put up big numbers in college. You’re probably going to start your career on a rebuilding team. If you had to choose between big stats and being part of a winner at the next level, what’s your preference?
I think you could guess that answer. I’m definitely going to the team where I’m winning. That’s all I care about. I want to be part of a winning program, a winning organization. I’ve always been a winner. I’ve learned that pretty much anything you’re set on, winning usually gets that done for you. Attention, wanting the regard, winning usually handles all that.
Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck