If Kansas coach Bill Self was disappointed that he lost out on top recruiting targets Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones on Friday afternoon, he didn’t have much time to feel down.
Minutes after Okafor, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, and Jones, another top-five recruit, announced they were attending Duke as one of the more highly regarded package recruiting deals in years, the Jayhawks pulled off a rare “hat trick.”
Chicago power forward Cliff Alexander, the No. 4 overall recruit in the country, selected Kansas in a ceremony at Curie High School in Chicago. The ceremony wasn’t without drama. Alexander reached and picked up an Illinois hat before putting it down and sliding a Kansas hat on his head.
If Kansas really was cursed in these hat ceremonies — as many fans have said for years — this should put an end to those theories. It all capped a wild day of recruiting announcements, with three of the nation’s top five recruits unveiling their college destinations.
Kansas may have lost out on Okafor, a 6-foot-10 center hailed as one of the best big-man prospects in years, but they landed another Chicago prospect who could also project as a one-and-done prospect.
“I feel they are going to develop me, get me to where I want to be, expand my game to the next level,” Alexander said during a televised interview on ESPNU.
Alexander, a 6-foot-8 power forward, projects as an above-average rebounder and has drawn style comparisons to former KU power forward Thomas Robinson. The only difference: Alexander could enter Kansas as a more finished product.
“He’ll be at Kansas one year and then he’ll be out,” Nick Irvin, Alexander’s AAU coach for Mac Irvin Fire, told Rivals.com. “That’s how good Cliff is on the basketball court. I call Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander one and two. Cliff will be a top-two pick when he leaves Kansas year next.”
Okafor and Jones, a 6-1 point guard from Apple Valley (Minn.) High School, had long been adamant that they would like to attend the same school. And KU was a possible destination.
Okafor, a senior at Whitney Young High School, was considering Duke, Kansas and Baylor. And he was at the United Center on Tuesday when the Jayhawks beat the Blue Devils in the Champions Classic. Watching KU win apparently wasn’t enough to lure him to Lawrence.
Alexander, meanwhile, had built a long-time relationship with KU assistant Jerrance Howard, who recruited the Chicago area as an assistant at Illinois from 2007-12. Alexander, who also considered DePaul and Memphis, was in Lawrence last weekend watching his girlfriend play for the KU women’s team.
“Cliff is the type of player that gets after it offensively,” said Irvin, the AAU coach. “He doesn’t complain and he doesn’t ask for the basketball. He’s just a throwback basketball player and he is the type of player where you put him in any situation and he will strive.”
Kansas now has two members in its 2014 class. Small forward Kelly Oubre, rated as Rivals’ No. 12 overall recruit, signed with Kansas on Wednesday after verbally committing to KU over Kentucky in October following his visit to Late Night in The Phog.
The addition of Oubre and Alexander fills Kansas’ two open scholarships. Senior forward Tarik Black is the Jayhawks’ only scholarship senior, while freshman Andrew Wiggins is a lock to leave early for the NBA Draft.
The Jayhawks, of course, also feature two other freshmen — Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid — who are potential first-round picks.
It’s a slightly different situation for Self, who has had one-and-done players before (Xavier Henry and Josh Selby) but has never faced the possibility of losing as many as three in one year.
For now, though, he’s reloaded with two more elite recruits.
“The sense of urgency is we better recruit,” Self said earlier this season. “That’s where the sense of urgency comes in. If there’s a potential for that to happen, we better replace those guys.”