Yet, for all Okafor’s talent and the attention he gets on the court, none of the coaches who recruit him pronounce his name correctly. Not Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Not Kentucky coach John Calipari or Marquette coach Buzz Williams or North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
“I mean, most people pronounce my name wrong in general,” Okafor told USA Today. “But it’s even funnier when a coach that wants me to come to play for him in college says it wrong.”
For the record, Jahlil told USA Today that he pronounces his first name Jah-LEEL, not Juh-LEEL, as most coaches try to sound it out. The teenager has consistently taken the high road when it comes to his name, noting that he hardly feels justified in trying to stop living legends of college basketball and ask them to pronounce his name with a slightly different sound.
“It’s funny because I’ll be talking to a legend like [Michigan State Coach Tom] Izzo or somebody and they might say it wrong and, I mean, what am I gonna say? They’re legends,” Okafor told USA Today. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m used to it. I’ve got family who says it wrong. I will say that I do notice when coaches get it right. Which almost never happens.”
Well, almost never. According to Okafor, one Big Ten coach has it down.
“Coach (John) Groce from Illinois says it right,” Okafor said. “I don’t think anyone else does. Not 100 percent sure. But hey, it’s cool. It’s not like I look at them different or I’m gonna cut them off my list for it. I just like when people say it right.”
Will that help Illinois land their state’s own superstar? It might, but they’re certainly not the only school chasing him. Almost every major program in the nation is after Okafor’s signature, so a little bit of pronunciation work might just give the likes of Calipari or Kansas coach Bill Self an edge.