Battle of the bigs


DURHAM, N.C. — Duke center Jahlil Okafor said he knows where his team needs him. With his 6-foot-11 frame and polished post game, the freshman understands that in order to do the most damage, he needs to stay in the paint.

Of course, that doesn’t keep him from having the daydream that’s common among back-to-the-basket big men. Like most of his fellow centers, he too has entertained visions of drifting out to the perimeter, knocking down 3s and blowing by defenders with a lightning quick dribble.

“I think every big guy has a little guard in them at some point,” Okafor said. “But I know what my bread and butter is.”

Okafor Kaminsky
Points 17.9 16.6
Rebounds 7.9 8.7
Assists 1.7 2.4
Blocks 1.6 2.3

Over the summer, Okafor got to indulge some of his stretch-four (stretch-five?) fantasies. During informal pick-up games, he said he’d occasionally grab a rebound and, instead of passing to Blue Devil point guards Tyus Jones or Quinn Cook, he’d dribble the ball up himself and operate on the wing.

“I think I could give Tyus a run for his money at the guard position,” Okafor said with a laugh.

Wednesday night, Okafor will get a chance to test those skills for real when No. 4 Duke (7-0) heads to No. 2 Wisconsin (7-0) as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. He’ll likely match up with Badger center Frank Kaminsky, a player who routinely gets to live out the role Okafor only toyed with in the offseason’s lighter moments.

The 7-foot Kaminsky is as comfortable on the wing as he is in the paint. While helping guide the Badgers to the Final Four last season, Kaminsky led the team in scoring and rebounding and ranked third in 3-pointers.

Like Okafor, Kaminsky was named to the Associated Press’ Preseason All-American first team. And as a senior, he’s again leading his team in points and boards. His 11 3-pointers are also the most by anyone on the squad.

“Obviously, [Frank] Kaminsky, he’s had a great career, he’s a proven big man,” Okafor said. “With myself, just the fact that I’ve only played seven games of college basketball, that’s going to be a challenge.”

Okafor said he’s ready to deal with the unique skill set that Kaminsky has. It’s worth noting, however, that Wisconsin won’t see many players like Okafor, either.

Considered the top recruit in the class of 2014, Okafor hasn’t disappointed. He’s first on his team and second in the ACC when it comes to scoring. He’s already been the conference’s Freshman of the Week three times.

“His size and his maneuverability,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan told reporters earlier this week when asked what makes Okafor such a problem. “I haven’t seen him dance, but I bet he can dance. He’s got good feet. That baseline move that he has? He’s pretty good.”

Kaminsky proved that he’s got some decent footwork as well, starring in a recent viral video that showed him winning a dance-off with a fellow student to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off.”

“Those were his JV moves. You should have seen his varsity moves,” Ryan said. “He’s got more.”

Okafor admitted that he had yet to watch the video. But on the court or the dance floor, he said confidence won’t be an issue.

“I’m a solid dancer,” Okafor said. “Me and a few of my teammates, we dance off in the locker room. I’m not bad.”