Don’t Forget About Me, America… Signed, Jabari ParkerPosted by Chris Johnson on October 21st, 2013
There are a few names that stand out among the loaded crop of freshman talent entering college basketball this season. Kansas signee Andrew Wiggins is the one you’ve heard most about. Kentucky’s Julius Randle is another headliner. And Aaron Gordon, who made waves this summer while winning MVP with Team USA at the Under-19 FIBA World Championships, has so many YouTube dunk reels that any college basketball fan with even a marginal interest in the art of the slam (and there are a lot) must have seen him on tape by now at least three times. There’s one other name that hasn’t received anywhere close to as much publicity as his looming impact on the upcoming college basketball season – and the ACC and national championship pictures – merits: Jabari Parker. It’s a strange thing, really, that Parker is being overlooked in conversations about this year’s top freshmen. Don’t get me wrong, college hoops diehards and recruitniks have known about Parker for years. Most casual sports fans should remember him, too. He was only on the front cover of, like, the most popular sports magazine in the United States – his 6’8″ frame draped in a yellow Simeon high school uniform, plastered in front of a murky Chicago skyline, the words “The best high school basketball player since LeBron James is… ” printed beside him. (Perhaps Wiggins’ recent appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated distracted attention from Parker’s placement in the same magazine?)
That edition came out less than two years ago (May 2012, to be exact). People should remember. Instead, most of the hype about this year’s insane freshman class has revolved around Wiggins, Gordon and Randle – with a late push from Kentucky wing James Young, a player Wildcats coach John Calipari believes has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft, according to ESPN college hoops writer Jason King. None of those players is expected to flop in their first respective (and probably last) seasons of college hoops. These aren’t ordinary top-ranked recruits; they are recruits ranked near the top of one of the greatest recruiting classes of all-time. The guys being talked about most frequently should be great – tremendous talents with bright professional futures. To use standard recruiting terminology, none of them, most experts assure, will be “busts.” Not Wiggins, not Randle, not Gordon.
One player who almost surely won’t warrant that label by season’s end is Parker, which is why his relative under-the-radar-ish reputation is so puzzling. Parker, by most accounts, is the most polished scorer in the 2013 class, a Carmelo Anthony-esque clinician with a high basketball IQ. His versatility – his ability to pass, rebound and distribute in equal measure – is Parker’s defining characteristic. That’s a huge bonus for a Duke team still needing to shore up its frontcourt. Parker should start right away for the Blue Devils and, in all likelihood, emerge as one of the team’s top scorers and play-makers right away. Coach K has said Parker, along with Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, will be the “focal point” of Duke’s offense. At the risk of translating something that doesn’t need to be translated, K’s assertion basically guarantees Parker will get plenty of touches, and more importantly, plenty of opportunities to put his multifaceted game to good use around the basket. Parker is big enough (6’8″, 235 pounds) to guard opposing forwards, but too quick and skilled for them to guard him – especially on the perimeter, where he’s just as likely to face up and bury a long jumper as he is finish at the cup. Duke’s frontcourt may lack size and a reliable defensive anchor – Marshall Plumlee’s history of foot injuries is worrisome – but if Parker’s wide arsenal of skills translates to college, the Blue Devils will be a nightmare to guard inside the paint and out.
If Parker figures to be one of the best players on one of the nation’s best teams (and certainly the ACC’s best, at least from this preseason vantage point), why aren’t people talking about him more often? Whatever the reason, his semi-low-profile could be elevated into the mainstream hoops consciousness in relatively short order. On November 12, Parker and Duke will take on Wiggins and Kansas in the second game of the Champions Classic double-header at the United Center in Chicago. Windy City hoops fans will pack the UC (whether they have a rooting interest in either team or not) just to see their homegrown star shine on a huge national spotlight. Most college basketball fans will tune in, too, but probably for another reason: Andrew Wiggins will be playing.
Try watching the freshman on the other team matching Wiggins bucket-for-bucket.