The other day, a buddy said, “I don’t know what the hell Jabari Parker’s waiting on. But he needs to make this decision so my Lakers can land this top two pick and get back to business.”
He’s the guy who was both happy and pissed Nick Young dropped 41 on the Jazz last night in a Lakers win. He’s also the guy who has Los Angeles’ restoration process already mapped out. The centerpiece includes Parker enduring the wrath of Kobe for two years before being handed the keys to the Staples Center.
Needless to say, he’s probably crapping metric ton sh*t bricks at the moment with the very real possibility of Parker returning to Duke for his sophomore year.
The nation’s leading freshman scorer at 19.1 points per game (to go along with nine rebounds) and Wayman Tisdale Award recipient for nation’s top freshman will announce tomorrow if he plans to enter the June 26th NBA Draft. Parker’s obviously a top two or three selection and the decision seems like a no-brainer in many ways because it is. Parker, however, is a different breed of kid.
“I don’t know where that is right now,” Parker said in regards to his future plans. “I’ll talk to coach about it and lay out my options, but I’m just really glad I get the best of both worlds.”
There was a Sports Illustrated feature on Jabari I read nearly a year and a half before his trek to Duke’s campus. Even then, the NBA and its intoxicating luxuries appeared more like a second thought. The pros weren’t an immediate obsession, not in the way it was for fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins. Not in the sense Parker never wanted to one day achieve the ultimate goal of every mega-talented hoops prodigy. He did and I’m sure still does.
“Basketball is what I do,” he told S.I.’s Jeff Benedict. “It’s not who I am.”
Rather, Parker, a devout Mormon, appeared invested on not just using the business that is basketball to experience college. He wanted to enjoy it for all that it was worth. Returning to Duke for his sophomore set regardless of whatever superhuman exploits his freshman campaign produced was never out of the question.
We know the decision you, me or our barber would make – go get that money, young man. Let Marcus Smart’s decision to stay for one more year serve as a lesson. Improve your game with professional training staffs. Embrace the luxury of not being expected to immediately lead whatever bottom-feeder who picks you to the NBA Finals. Embrace never having to know what applying for a job online feels like. And, again, go get that money, young man.
The NCAA isn’t going to do anything but market Duke No. 1 jerseys, make a killing off merchandise, cable TV packages and plaster your face all over commercials and billboards promoting the multi-billion dollar money grab that is March Madness.
But maybe’s he’s not ready for that. Talent-wise, Jabari is perhaps the surest offensive bet in the list of eligible draftees. What if, mentally-speaking, he doesn’t feel primed for the obligations and responsibilities that come with being a pro basketball player just yet? The ticket requests, the family members asking for money, the women. The women waiting after each game. In. Each. City.
All three manifest themselves on the collegiate level to various extents. That’s a given. Yet, for every LeBron and Durant who made the transition appear easier than it really is, names in the vein Omar Cook, Joe Alexander or Anthony Bennett – who Parker is lightyears better than, but last year’s top overall pick infamously questioned his own decision to go pro while announcing his decision to go pro – always serve as natural “scared straight” infomercials.
He says he the decision will ultimately rest on wherever he can grow the most. In between the Thirsty Thursdays, other extracurricular activities, submitting applications for unpaid internships and applying for jobs in the midst of the worst economic slip since the 1930s, I like to believe I left college a different and better person than I did stepping on campus four years earlier.
In that respect, his reasoning for wanting to stay in school is respected. He probably feels like he owes it to Duke to actually advance them past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, too. But I was never a guaranteed top-two or three anything in my age bracket before turning 20.
And while the feeling of his college career being “incomplete” is understood, it’s not as if he’s not indebted to the Blue Devils for anything, despite whatever guilt trip the Crazies throw. Just ask Kyrie Irving or Elton Brand. Duke will retool and regroup. Coach K always does. That’s part of the responsibility of being a living icon in a sport where there aren’t many.
Deciding to stay, Jabari undoubtedly becomes the early favorite for the Oscar Robertson Award given to the country’s top player. Not to be pushed aside, too, but Duke has Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones set to arrive in Durham, making the duo plus Jabari, Duke’s most top-heavy lineup in years. A preseason national champion favorite, too.
Jabari might go pro. He should. Here’s to hoping he does. For nothing other than selfish reasons, watching the Rookie/Sophomore game in Madison Square Garden next February sounds like fun. Meanwhile, pairing Chicago’s new native son alongside Victor Oladipo in Orlando or Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel in Philly instantly make either squad League Pass favorites.
But it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s already registered for fall semester classes either.
Related: His teammate Nick Johnson is reportedly “leaning towards” declaring for the NBA Draft. For Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, there wasn’t much to lean towards. The much ballyhooed freshman made it official on Monday by placing his name in the hat for June 26’s selection show. The 6’9″ forward from San Jose, California, averaged 12 points and eight rebounds during his only season on campus.
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