SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Since Jahlil Okafor and Paul White were freshmen at Whitney Young (Chicago), Dolphins coach Tyrone Slaughter sought the most difficult schedule available for a Chicago public high school.
Last season, the sophomore year for Okafor and White, Whitney Young played powerhouses from seven different states and Washington, D.C. While the schedule didn't seem to pay dividends, with the Dolphins finishing 16-10 and out of the state 4A playoffs early against eventual champion Simeon (Chicago), it prepared the Dolphins for this season.
Saturday, Whitney Young, the No. 3 team in the USA Today Super 25 boys basketball rankings, defeated No. 9 Long Beach Poly 85-52 in the Spalding Hoophall Classic as Okafor scored 26 points and White had 20.
It was the Dolphins' seventh meeting with a Super 25 team this season. The only defeat for Whitney Young (17-1) was in double-overtime to No. 2 Montverde (Fla.) Academy. For the most part, the Dolphins have found their best competition away from the Windy City.
"It's a double-edged sword," said Slaughter said. "Unfortunately, Chicago basketball is not what it once was. There are some games that really do matter to us in our conference. We have a game coming up Tuesday (against Chicago's Orr). And of course, we have the much-anticipated game with (No. 11) Simeon on Saturday. Those games are still important to us. They're good ballgames and quality opponents, but you look at the schedule we play and those games are just another notch in the belt, win, lose or draw."
The loss was the worst setback for Poly (17-2) this season. The Jackrabbits' other loss was by 15 points to Montverde Academy.
"I think the kids were humbled," said Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer. "It's embarrassing. You carry a target for so long being highly ranked and you come into the game and lay an egg. In the end, the most important part of the season is still in front of us, in terms of our league, our section and our state. At the end, if we're able to accomplish all of our goals, this loss will mean exactly zero except in terms of the national spotlight."
Simeon hit 80.8% of its second-half shots and made a lot of things look easy, a testament to the rough road they traveled to get this far.
"We've been doing this since my freshmen year and this year, I feel like I and my teammates are more mature," Okafor said.
White said he's grown to trust his own ability as well as his teammates'.
"I've had people tell me I can do this and finally, things have clicked," White said. "My teammates have helped me reach that peak. I'm just going to keep grinding. I realize that I don't have to force anything like I did last year."
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @jimhalley.