Okafor should be No. 1 pick

Updated: May 28, 2004, 7:45 AM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider

STORRS, Conn. -- Emeka Okafor is an endangered species.

There was a time when players like Okafor populated the whole NBA draft. They flourished throughout the American countryside, grazing on a college education during the day and huddling in cramped dormitories at night. All had hopes of making it big in the NBA after leading their college team to a national championship.

Emeka Okafor
Slowly, over the last two decades, NBA teams have picked off players like Okafor well before now. This year, a record 94 American and international underclassmen declared for the draft. Okafor was one of them.

In an era when every high school player who can win a slam-dunk contest and every international teenager standing 6-foot-11 or taller thinks he's ready for the NBA, Okafor is a rarity -- a college junior who has graduated (with honors, in finance), won a national championship, values both the game and his education, and who -- and here's the kicker -- actually is a great NBA prospect.

Everyone claims there is no LeBron James in this year's draft. Maybe that's not a bad thing. LeBron may be the future of the NBA, but Okafor is a flashback. A refreshing memory of what made the NBA special in the first place.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer