• Dennis McCaslin

From the streets of Moffett to the courts of the NBA -Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil and Chucky Okafor

Imagine being nine nine-years-old, out on the streets of Moffett playing with your friends and not having a care in the world.

Imagine going into your home and finding your mother having medical issues with her breathing to the point that eventually she had to be whisked way to a hospital in Fort Smith.

Imagine her never coming home, and finding yourself taken away from the family and friends you love to move 725 miles north to live with your father in Chicago.

And imagine yourself surviving--and using all of that --to one day playing the game you love on the biggest stage of all...the National Basketball Association.

Dacresha “Dee” Benton

That is the life of Jahlil Okafor, born in Fort Smith and raised in Moffett until 2005 when his mother, Dacresha “Dee” Benton died after having a lung collapse during a bout with bronchitis.

His father had spent time as a player for Westark/UFS, Carl Albert and one other junior college, as well as a four year school, in a basketball career that never really took hold.

Years later, while at Duke for one season, Okafor told a national news outlet that Dee Benton "was always home" and when he first went to Chicago all he wanted to do was "get back to Moffett and be with his friends".

But his father, Chuckwudi (Chucky) Okafor was always there for the young man.

Dacresha “Dee” Benton - Muldrow gravesite

"I have a lot of memories,'' Okafor said. "My dad lost his mom when he was an infant, so he always let me know how lucky I was to be able to remember her. But that can make it hurt even more sometimes, being able to remember.''

Okafor was a phenom. Basketball was there, yes, and certainly it was an outlet. By the time Okafor was in middle school, aware of how much bigger he was than everyone else, he'd beg his aunt not to tell people his age, already prepped for the "He's how old?" response. And before he stepped a toe onto a high school court, DePaul said he had a scholarship.

After a one and done year at Duke, Okafor was selected with the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He signed a two-year contract with the 76ers on July 7, scored twenty points in h first Summer Developmental League game and went on that year to average 17.5 points, earning All Rookie honors and balloting fifth in the rookie of the year race.

Jahlil Okafor

Injuries--and personal demons--seemingly got in the way after that stellar debut season. There was an alleged incident at a bar where he tried to use a fake ID to do some drinking. He got into at least one street fight. After being involved in a few other embarrassing and potentially dangerous off-the-court incidents, Okafor was accompanied for a while by a security guard furnished by the 76ers whenever he went out.

He admitted in at least interview to staying up all night and "just playing video games" on a regular basis. The remainder of his time in Philly and a one year stint with Brooklyn didn't fare well for his statistics, but a 2018 trade to he New Orleans Pelicans seemingly put back on the right track.

Okafor was traded to the Detroit Pistons on Deember 1, 2020 and he tells the media in Detroit that he is "happy again".

From Moffett to the NBA...that's the life journey of Jahlil Okafor.

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