Following Mr. Smart: Could Jabari Parker Give Us an Encore?Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 25th, 2014
Last season Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart shocked the entire basketball world when he decided to return to Stillwater for a sophomore campaign. In a year in which he had taken home Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and unanimous first team all-conference honors, Smart had NBA scouts salivating about the prospect of drafting him. But against all odds, Smart turned his back on the NBA and decided it could wait another season. He wanted to enjoy the college atmosphere for another year and he wanted to compensate for OSU’s disappointing first round exit from the NCAA Tournament. It was hard to turn down the guaranteed money for what would have most likely been a top-five selection, but he did and here we are. Oklahoma State currently sits at 15-3 and is ranked 11th in the national polls, but a 3-2 start in Big 12 play means that the Cowboys are likely to spend the rest of the winter looking up at Kansas in the league standings. Smart has impressed individually as well — he’s a bona fide All-American — but he will be facing a much deeper field in this year’s NBA Draft if he decides two years is enough. This brings us to a similar situation in which a star freshman who is all but guaranteed a top-five draft slot has rumors swirling that he too is considering not making the jump.
Duke’s Jabari Parker is not Marcus Smart; they don’t play the game the same way or even the same position. But they are both incredibly talented underclassmen shouldering an intense offensive burden for Top 25 teams. In Parker’s case, whispers have been mounting over the past few weeks — most recently with Parker’s dad, Sonny — suggesting that Parker has yet to make up his mind about his future. Perhaps a typical reaction from a confidant, advisor, or family member, Parker and his team are wise to desire minimal distractions during Duke’s season. But after Duke landed the top overall recruiting class for 2014, fans and pundits alike began dreaming up scenarios of potential Duke lineups that include Parker along with top 10 prospects Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, five-star prospect Justise Winslow and fringe five-star recruit Grayson Allen. For an individual who has said that he hopes to leave a legacy at Duke as one of the all-time greats, Parker will only be able to do so if he brings home another title to Durham.
Adding to the rumor mill is the relationship between Parker and Duke’s biggest 2014 signee. Okafor and Parker both hail from Chicago and have a close relationship from their time as AAU teammates on Mac Irvin Fire. Playing with such a dominant post presence must be enticing to the current Duke players, and Parker is no exception. In November, Parker briefly spoke on the potential pairing, saying, “We can work hand-in-hand with each other depending on where we are on different spots on the floor.” Some NBA executives agree with optimistic Duke fans, saying they expect him to return for his sophomore season.
Not everyone is fanning the flames of a second collegiate season for Parker, and he will be hard pressed to turn down eight figures and his dream of reaching the NBA. He is, however, NBA ready on the offensive end of the floor, and at least one NBA assistant is so enamored with Parker that he thinks he would already be the best player on the Utah Jazz. His own coach, speaking on the Dan Patrick Show last month, even said that it is highly unlikely Parker sees another winter in Durham. With or without the multifaceted forward in the lineup, Duke will be highly ranked next season due to their returnees, their historic recruiting class, and that guy coaching over on the sidelines. But if Parker does happen to shock the world and stick around for one more season, expect Duke to grab a firm stranglehold on the top preseason ranking and start next fall as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2015 NCAA title.