Jahlil Okafor is an unbelievable blend of power, agility and intelligence in the post. He is one of the most polished offensive prospects the NBA has seen in a while. He is a national champion and consensus first-team All-American.
He’s also a family man, and the story behind that family is an unbelievable one.
1. His Parents Were Both Standout Basketball Players
Dacresha “Dee” Benton and Chukwudi “Chucky” Okafor met in Forth Smith, Arkansas. Dee was from nearby Roland, Oklahoma, where she was a 6’2″ unstoppable basketball force before a knee injury and baby daughter cut her playing career short. Chucky, who grew up in Chicago, was playing junior college ball.
“She had a great personality,” said Chucky. “She was just so playful, and brutally honest. Her soul would touch everybody in the room. I can see it all in Jahlil.”
When Jahlil was born, he had a basketball in his hands by the time he was four months old. There’s home video of him playing hoops while still in diapers. His dad, who eventually moved back to Chicago after things didn’t work out with Dee, consistently visited Jahlil and brought him different toy basketball hoops.
For this family, basketball was everything.
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2. His Mother Died at the Age of 29
When Jahlil was only nine years old, a tragedy changed his life forever. As he was watching TV with his older sister, Jalen, his mother, who had been dealing with a bought of bronchitis, began coughing uncontrollably. When Jahlil realized it wasn’t a joke, he called 911 and his mother was taken to the hospital. She had suffered a collapsed lung, and the doctors weren’t able to save her.
Fighting through the unimaginable heartbreak, Okafor turned to the basketball court as his sanctuary.
Now 10 years later, Jahlil’s Twitter profile reads: “R.I.P I love you mom.” On Mother’s Day, he posted the above picture on Instagram, writing, “What I wouldn’t do to be in this women’s lap again. Don’t ever take for granted your moms being around, let them know you love them today and every day after that as well.”
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3. His Father Has Used His Own Mistakes to Raise Jahlil as a Better Man
Growing up in Chicago, Chucky Okafor got into a good amount of trouble. He stole credit cards, stole cars, went to a juvenile detention center twice and was kicked out of school on multiple occasions.
But when Jahlil’s mother passed away and he came to Chicago to stay with his father, Chucky knew it was time he had to change his ways.
“I saw him try to create a human being better than who he was,” said Chucky’s sister, Chinyere Okafor. “I know that Chukwudi always knew his potential and understood that he lost out because he lost his path or lost the idea of dreaming big. And he refused – definitely refused – to let that happen to any seed or blood of his.”
While Chucky was there for Jahlil in a time of need and was integral in his son developing into a bona-fide superstar, the relationship worked both ways. As Jahlil explained, he also saved his father:
He’s been the greatest father for me. Going around the streets of Chicago with my dad, people always tell me they can’t believe how much my dad has matured. Or, ‘You wouldn’t believe how your dad used to be.’ There’s always lots of words about how much he’s changed. I know he had a rough childhood growing up, and he made some mistakes when he was very young. But ever since I’ve lived with him, I know he’s said numerous times that I’ve changed his life.
As Jahlil rolled to a national championship during his freshman year at Duke, Chucky was a mainstay in the stands, serving as one of the team’s most vocal and entertaining supporters:
4. Emeka Okafor is Jahlil’s Distant Cousin
According to the Hartford Courant, Jahlil and NBA veteran Emeka Okafor are distant cousins. There isn’t much written on their relationship, but Emeka’s parents and Chucky’s dad are both natives of Nigeria. Chucky also has a brother named Emeka.
A three-year starter at UConn, where he led the Huskies to a national title in 2004, Emeka has enjoyed a rock solid nine-year NBA career. He was drafted second overall in 2004, won the Rookie of the Year and is averaging 12.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks for his career. He started 77 games for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13, but an injury sidelined him the following year and he remains unsigned.
5. He Has an ‘Auntie-Mom’
Chucky, who lost his mother when he was only 18 months old, has five siblings, but older sister Chinyere was the one who raised him like a mother. And when Jahlil’s mother passed away, she assumed a similar role for her nephew. He calls her “auntie-mom.”
“His family has given him this happiness and this support and this love of life that is unbelievably uncommon,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s just a terrific family unit that this kid is a part of.”
In addition to older sister Jalen, Jahlil also has two younger brothers, Jamonte and Ashondre.