Mateen Cleaves: ‘Okafor Is Only Kid To Go To NBA Next Year, Help A Team’

Entering the season, Jahlil Okafor was considered by many the best freshman in this year’s recruiting class. Well, almost halfway through February, he’s made a whole bunch of people look very, very smart.

Okafor is averaging 18.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for No. 4 Duke (21-3), which started 15-0 and has won seven of its last eight games. At 6-11, 270 pounds, Okafor is a mismatch for just about everyone in college basketball.

In fact, he might even be a mismatch in the NBA next season.

“Oh man, he’s the truth,” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Mateen Cleaves said on Gio and Jones. “He is the real deal. He’s a throwback as far as big men when you talk about Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson – guys comfortable with playing (with) their back to the basket. I’m not comparing him to them, but it’s just a breath of fresh air to see a kid come in with the skill set – as opposed to a kid just running and jumping. This guy catches the ball, he’s got big soft hands, nice touch around the basket, good footwork – he can do it all. Much more athletic than what people think.

“But this kid can flat out play,” Cleaves continued. “He understands how to play the game the right way. Then he’s a good kid. You can tell he’s been raised the right way (and) had good coaching around him. He’s the only kid I think that’s ready to leave college and be able to (step up) in the NBA next year and be able to help a team.”

With five teams ranked in the top 12, the ACC is certainly up for grabs, but it may come down to Duke and No. 2 Virginia (22-1, 9-1). In fact, Virginia’s only loss this season came to Duke in January. The Cavaliers responding by beating No. 12 North Carolina and No. 9 Louisville, but Justin Anderson was injured in the win over the Cardinals and underwent surgery Monday to repair a fractured finger on his shooting hand.

He is expected back for the ACC Tournament.

“Luckily for them, he’s not out for the year,” Cleaves said. “It’s going to hinder them a tad bit because outside of Malcolm Brogdon, he was probably their best offensive player. His jump shot has come so much better than it was last year. He really couldn’t shoot the basketball. And now this year, he’s been lighting it up from outside.”

Anderson is averaging 13.4 points and shooting 48.4 percent from three-point range. By comparison, he shot just 29.4 percent from downtown last season. He’s also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

“He’s an energy guy, one of their tough guys – so it’s definitely going to be a challenge for them,” Cleaves said. “But you guys understand this can make your bench stronger – have other guys step up and get good quality minutes right before the ACC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament. So it might be a blessing in disguise. But for them to make a title run, he’s definitely going to have to be back out on that floor.”

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