Post Players Shine in 2014 Jordan Brand Classic: Is Year of the Big Man Coming?

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Post Players Shine in 2014 Jordan Brand Classic: Is Year of the Big Man Coming?
Charles Rex Arbogast

NEW YORK — With Joel Embiid sitting courtside on Friday night at the Barclays Center, the next wave of big men about to invade college basketball were the talk of the Jordan Brand Classic.

It has been a long time since the bigs have dominated this game. No, not just the Jordan game, but college basketball in general. True post players have gone the way of short shorts and sky hooks. Practically extinct.

That's why this college basketball season could feel like a throwback to the 1980s. Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor, the MVP for the winning East team on Friday, is the best freshman in America, and he loves to play with his back to the basket. And by the time March gets here, he could end up as the best player in America.

Kansas-bound Cliff Alexander, the MVP for the West team, loves to rebound, is focused on improving his low-post game and is hating on rim like a young Shaquille O'Neal.

"I haven't seen any (big) guys in high school as good as these guys," Arizona-bound wing Stanley Johnson said.

That's because they haven't existed in his lifetime.

Jeff Roberson

It's why NBA scouts went goo-goo over Embiid this year, a true 7-footer who embraced playing with his back to the basket and idolized Hakeem Olajuwon.

Embiid was refreshing. And so was this game on Friday night, won not surprisingly by the East, 158-147, who were stacked with bigs.

All-Star games are typically showcases for guards to put up shots and stats, leaving the big fellas to rebound and maybe finish an alley-oop or two. 

But a look at the stat sheet on Friday showed where the strength in this class lies: Okafor (29 points and nine rebounds), Alexander (23 points, eight rebounds and five blocks), Kentucky-bound Trey Lyles (17 points, six rebounds, two blocks), Stanford-bound Reid Travis (12 points, five rebounds) and Kentucky-bound Karl Towns (nine points, seven rebounds, three assists).

And one of the best bigs in the class, undecided Myles Turner, didn't even play because of an ankle injury.

"We definitely have some talented bigs with Cliff Alexander—you all know about him—Karl Towns, Myles Turner and Reid Travis," Okafor said. "(Travis) gets overshadowed, but he's gotten so much better with me battling him these last couple weeks. You definitely have some amazing bigs in this class."

Okafor is undoubtedly the best one, and that was obvious in his 23 minutes. It was also pretty obvious this week that he picked his point guard wisely in pairing up with Tyus Jones to go to Duke.

In the first half, Okafor scored back-to-back baskets on beautiful passes from Jones. The first was out of a pick-and-roll. The second was a cross-court bounce pass from Jones that Okafor caught in stride on the fast break. A big man can be useless without someone to get him the ball, and Jones is smart enough to feed Okafor at every opportunity. 

Okafor's post moves have been well-documented. He impressed this week as well with his ability to run the floor and finish in transition.

It was hard to get too many takeaways in a defenseless game like this, but there were a few moments worth putting in the memory bank when defense was actually played. One was an Okafor jump hook that got sent back by Alexander. 

"I play against Jahlil all the time back home (in Chicago)," Alexander said. "I come out and compete every time I step on the floor, and I'm looking forward to playing against him in college too."

For that to happen, it would have to be in March or April.

We shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves, because this past November at the Champions Classic, many of us who cover the game started dreaming about an Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker rematch in Arlington at the Final Four. That, obviously, never played out.

Some of the bigs, like Towns, could be great down the road but still need some seasoning. With all the big men Kentucky has, it will be tough for both Lyles and Towns to see a lot of minutes. Yes, John Calipari has too many talented bigs to get them all playing time. In most years, it's hard to find that many talented big guys in the entire country.

You almost have to go back to the 1980s when Olajuwon was dominating at Houston and John Thompson had a future Hall of Fame big guy in his lineup nearly every year at Georgetown.

It's way too soon to put these guys in that class. And overhyping freshmen is a disease that the YouTube generation can't kick. This column probably isn't helping. It's just that watching these guys for three days you do get the feeling that we're about to watch a different game next season where what happens on the blocks really matters. 

So forgive me for getting excited. It's just not every day you see dinosaurs come back to the wild.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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