Next Cats: Okafor-Jones might be rare 'package deal' that pans out

broberts@herald-leader.comAugust 14, 2013 

The "package deal" is becoming a common phrase in the world of basketball recruiting.

It's also a concept that rarely pans out.

The latest — and maybe greatest — package deal being discussed involves Minnesota point guard Tyus Jones and Chicago center Jahlil Okafor. Many recruiting analysts consider Jones and Okafor to be the two best prospects in the Class of 2014.

The two have talked for more than a year about playing for the same school. Okafor told the Herald-Leader in the spring that the chances of the two teaming up in college were "99.9" percent. Jones has said something similar.

Jerry Meyer, the national analyst for 247Sports, recently told the Herald-Leader that — unlike other package deals — the one between Jones and Okafor "seems legit."

"It's unlikely that any of these package deals are going to happen," Meyer said. "But with Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor — they have played a ton together and they do have that chemistry. They do fit with each other. Of all the package deals I've heard talked about, that's the most convincing one to me."

For the record, Meyer predicts on his 247 Crystal Ball page that the two recruits will end up at Duke, one of several schools pursuing both players.

So what makes these two guys different from the package deals that have fizzled in the past?

They've already proven they can play (and win) together. Jones and Okafor joined forces with Team USA to earn FIBA gold medals in 2011 and 2012.

Their games complement each other. Jones plays the role of the pass-first point guard, and Okafor is the force in the middle who racks up low-post points and rebounds.

They also get along well off the court. Seeing Jones and Okafor sitting next to each other in the stands at AAU events and national camps is not uncommon.

When they're apart, they keep in touch.

"Every time he has an in-home visit, he'll tell me who's over," Okafor said earlier this year. "And after, he always tells me how it went. I'll text him too. Like, 'Hey, Coach K's over right now and the visit's going well.' Stuff like that."

It'll soon be time for Jones and Okafor to take official visits.

Both players have released schedules of their planned trips in recent days. They'll take three official visits together: Baylor on Aug. 30, Kansas on Oct. 18 and Duke on Oct. 25. They'll visit UK separately, with Okafor coming to town for the school's charity game on Sept. 9 and Jones arriving on Sept. 27. Okafor also has scheduled an official visit for Arizona, which is not on Jones' list.

Ohio State and Michigan State also are among the finalists for both players, but neither will use an official visit on those schools.

Both prospects have denied that there is a leader in their recruitment, but Duke is widely seen as the favorite. The buzz among recruiting observers is that Jones is sold on the Blue Devils but Okafor wants to take all of his visits before leaning in one direction.

Meyer said the odds favor this package deal happening, but he's seen too many fall apart in the past to call it a sure thing.

"Probability says it will happen, but I'm not going to bet my house on it," he said.

Meyer says he's always cautious when he hears the phrase "package deal."

He's even been there when the idea of certain deals were spawned.

"A lot of times, the media conjures up these package deals," he said. "I've been interviewing a player with another reporter, and he's putting answers into the kid's mouth by the way he's asking questions. Just so he can write his 'package deal' story."

Kentucky Coach John Calipari took on the issue in his latest recruiting "manifesto," which was posted on his website last month and railed against the idea of package deals.

"If players want to play together, that's OK, but it must benefit ALL the players," the UK coach wrote. "If not, it's a huge mistake for one or more of those guys. Ultimately, what I think a kid should be thinking about is what's in the best interest of his individual career."

Meyer agrees with that point.

"Everyone wants to talk about package deals," he said. "At the end of the day, you're going to do what's best for you."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: UKrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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