Grayson Allen has accepted an offer to play basketball from Duke University. Allen, who was just offered last week, made it official earlier today. He was long considered a Duke lean in some circles and he is the first player to commit in the loaded class of 2014.
LOS ANGELES – Seventy miles from the Duke University campus is Wesleyan Christian Academy. Theo Pinson helped lead his Trojans to the NCHSAA 3A state championship as they beat Greensboro Day 59-49. The 6’6 swingman was also selected to the NCISAA 3A boys all-state team along with his teammate Harry Giles. Pinson is playing in his last season of AAU before he becomes a senior and ultimately matriculates to the school of his choice.
On Sunday, Pinson’s team, CP3, beat a relentless Howard Pulley team 70-66. Howard Pulley, led by top point guard prospect Tyus Jones, was down 15 points with under 5 minutes to play and almost made the miraculous comeback. Pinson scored 16 points on 4 of 11 shooting. He also made key free throws down the stretch including a big offensive rebound to keep possession for his team.
BlueDevilNation was able to catch up with the swingman prospect and get his thoughts on his recruitment.
BlueDevilNation: What’s your mindset going into this final AAU season? Any different than before?
Theo Pinson: Na, I mean all of the other years I wanted to win championships. We went to the final four last year so we’re trying to finish this time.
BDN: What do you feel like you’ve improved on most this past season?
TP: Defensive wise I’ve just been pressuring up a little more cause you have to do it [private] in college.
BDN: Has that been a big focus for you?
TP: Oh yea, and shooting also.
BDN: Will you be cutting your list anytime soon?
TP: Uh yea, probably after the live period this time, after Boo Williams.
BDN: Is there any school that’s recruiting you the hardest right now?
TP: Oh, na.
BDN: Is there any pressure to stay in state?
TP: Not really, I mean, of course a lot of people are going to say go to Duke, go to Carolina, go to State and other schools. But, I mean, I’m just doing the best for me.
BDN: Will distance be a factor for you at all?
BDN: Speaking of Duke, have you been in contact with them regularly?
TP: Yea, I mean, all of them have been, since the seasons been over, everybody’s been trying to communicate and telling me they’re going to be watching this weekend and stuff like that.
BDN: Who do you keep contact with at Duke?
TP: I talked to K the one time and then it’s been Capel, but he’s been in surgery right now. And Wojo a couple of times.
BDN: Do you pay attention to who comes out and watches you?
TP: Yea you gotta pay attention to that. You gotta use little stuff like that to separate the schools.
BDN: Do you have any visits coming up?
TP: Umm, not right now.
BDN: How about any in-homes?
TP: No, not yet.
BDN: Who do you feel is the toughest player you’ve had to guard?
TP: Either Julius (Randle) or Andrew (Wiggins). Those are two good ones. (laughs)
BDN: You have a great high school teammate in Harry Giles. Can you give me a scouting report on him?
TP: Uhhh, shoot, you better learn how to guard, or you’re going to have to find somebody that’s strong or something. I don’t know, I mean he’s hard to guard. He’s gotta stop himself. That’s the only way you’re gonna stop him.
BDN: And lastly, are teams recruiting you as a 2 or a 3?
TP: A lot of teams are just recruiting me as a guard. I mean I can play any position from the 1, 2, or 3 or a 4 if I have to.
BDN: Thanks a lot.
TP: No problem.
LOS ANGELES — After winning the Swish N Dish last weekend in Milwaukee, Jahlil Okafor was sidelined this weekend with a sprained ankle. The 6’10 Chicago native had a great year for his high school, Whitney Young, but fell short of the Super-Sectionals when his team lost to national powerhouse Simeon Wolverines. Even though he didn’t play this weekend, Okafor could be seen clapping and cheering his team on the whole way.
I was able to catch up with Jahlil and ask him about his season, his recruitment, his teammate Jalen Brunson, and Jabari Parker’s recruitment process.
BlueDevilNation: Is there a reason you didn’t play this last game?
Jahlil Okafor: Oh I have a sprained ankle.
BDN: Will you be able to play this weekend at all?
JO: Oh no I’ll be out the whole weekend.
BDN: Oh that’s unfortunate. I hope you get better soon. You had a great season with Whitney Young this year, but, unfortunately, it came to an end against one of your good friends Jabari. How do you feel about your season?
JO: You know it was really a successful [private] year. I think we had an amazing year. It just didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But overall it was a great year.
BDN: Simeon will be losing some key players next year, do you feel it’s Whitney Young’s turn to take the state championship?
JO: I thought last year and the previous year was our turn so I have the same mindset and that’s to win state.
BDN: Of course. Good luck with that. What do you think you improved most on this season?
JO: I think I was a leader this year. I think that’s the one thing that my coach tested me, was being more of a vocal leader on and off the court. I thought I really improved on that.
BDN: What’s your current height and weight?
JO: Uh about 6’10 ½ -6’11 and about 270lbs.
BDN: Are you trying to get bigger or lose weight?
JO: Na I’m just playing basketball. You know, I’m just trying to be in shape.
BDN: So then some conditioning?
JO: (looks at ankle and laughs) Oh well I haven’t as of recently..
BDN: Oh, of course. But in general?
JO: Yea that’s always something I can work on is my conditioning.
BDN: Congratulations on winning the Swish N Dish last weekend. What was that like?
JO: That was great. We won the Swish N Dish without Cliff (Alexander) who was one of our key players. It was great, you know, we beat MeanStreets, which is an EYBL team, in the championship game. You know it was good to have the first tournament win of this year.
BDN: You have a pretty good teammate in Jalen Brunson.
JO: (laughs) Oh yea he’s pretty good.
BDN: Can you give me a little scouting report on him?
JO: He can shoot the lights out with the ball. He has a great handle. Not the most athletic but you won’t take the ball from him and you won’t stop him on the offensive end. And he’s an underrated defender.
BDN: So you have some in-home visits coming up correct?
JO: Yea I think I have Duke on Monday, I’m not really sure. I think I have Duke on Monday and Michigan State on Tuesday, and then Kansas and Baylor on Wednesday.
BDN: What are you looking to ask the coaches? What is there specifically you’d like to find out?
JO: I pretty much know everything, you know. Most of the coaches have been recruiting me since my freshman year so I pretty much know everything I need to know about the programs.
BDN: Do you have a better relationship with certain coaches or would you say it’s equal?
JO: I wouldn’t say there’s any coaches I have a better relationship with than the other.
BDN: So with Duke coming in, how did you feel about Mason Plumlee’s year?
JO: Oh man he had an amazing year, you know. I came down to Duke before the season started and I watched their Midnight Madness. I told my dad that I think he’ll be player of the year because of some of the things they were doing with him. I sat down and talked with Coach K and he told me the game plan and how they would use Mason and utilize his skillset. So I thought he had an amazing year and that’s what I was expecting.
BDN: Is how they used Mason how the coaches have said they would use you?
JO: Yea pretty much. Something a little similar, they told me I was a little bit more skilled. So, you know, but they said you know there’s so many rumors about using their bigs so they were just showing me how Mason took care of those rumors.
BDN: So how do you feel about those rumors and perceptions?
JO: Oh no no no, not at all.
BDN: Who do you speak with mostly from Duke?
JO: Coach Capel, I talk to him mostly. But Coach K, I talk to him through text maybe once or twice a week
BDN: Do you have a timeframe for when you want to make your decision?
JO: I would like to make it early so I don’t have to worry about it during my season, but you know, there’s no telling when it’ll happen. I was just talking about that to my dad. Hopefully it’s early but I’m not really sure.
BDN: With you and Tyus stating you want to play together, would you guys make a decision together at the same time or day?
JO: (laughs and smiles) Oh yea definitely. Definitely, yea.
BDN: You’re going to make some school very happy.
BDN: Jabari made his decision recently. Did he talk to you about his decision and how it was for him?
JO: Well I asked him about how he handled it with the commitment day and how he called the other coaches and let them how he wouldn’t be going to their school and stuff like that.
BDN: Did he say if it was a tough decision?
JO: Yea he said it was a very tough decision.
BDN: Did he highlight any reasons for picking his choice of Duke?
JO: The rich legacy of it. The rich legacy and he’s really high on Coach K.
BDN: And finally just a different question not about recruiting. Do you have a favorite subject in school?
JO: Oh I like British Literature.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Jahlil.
JO: Oh no problem [/private]
At this time a year ago, 6’4″ Grayson Allen of Providence HS in Jacksonville, Florida had earned three scholarship offers. Last week, Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski opted to make the combo guard his eighth outstanding scholarship offer in the class of 2014.
This weekend, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke associate head coach Steve “Wojo” Wojciechowski watched two games of their most recently offered player at the Nike EYBL LA. After bursting onto the national scene with the Douglas Brothers Elite AAU program at last year’s Peach State Summer Showcase, Allen, a former soccer player, opted to switch programs and joined Southern Stampede, enabling the rising senior to compete in Nike’s EYBL, the best AAU competition currently available. Teaming up with 6’8″ JaKeenan Gant, 6’4″ Ahmed Hill, and 6’5″ Jalen Lindsey for the Southern Stampede, Grayson Allen averaged nine points, two rebounds, two assists, and three steals in his three games in LA.
Allen credits his enhanced recruiting interest, which now includes recent interest from Indiana University, to a fusion of self-improvement and exposure. Grayson Allen, whose forename stems from his family’s lineage, says that he has a bit of a split personality: a fiery, competitive player on the court and a quieter, more cerebral side (a reported 4.4 GPA in his most recent semester) off of the court, tendencies demonstrated in more emotionally stable basketball players. The Northern Florida product, who says that he’s been compared to former Florida State and NBA guard Bob Sura, attributes his athleticism and physique to a regimen of plyometrics, push-ups, and sit-ups.
After falling two games short a year ago, this past season, Grayson Allen, who expressed a great deal of divine gratitude for his physical attributes, lead Providence HS, a non-denominational Christian school, to a state title win over Coral Springs Christian for a Florida 3A state championship. In the title game, Allen, who averaged over nineteen points per game, erupted for thirty-one points, including twenty-seven points in the first three periods.
Grayson Allen’s three-point shooting and theatric dunks in transition at Providence have made him an instant YouTube sensation. He credits his mother, a Jacksonville native, and father, who played “a little high school basketball” in southern Georgia, with keeping him humble and focused throughout this process. Allen, who felt that his November visit to Duke helped clarify some misperceptions on television about Coach K, said that his college decision could come as soon as “next week or next month,” depending upon his comfort level.
This weekend in Garden Grove, California, a reflective and congenial Grayson Allen provided an in-depth interview with me about a plethora of topics.
After blowing up, for lack of a better term, last year, how differently will you approach this AAU season? I was wondering if your approach changed at all this year versus last summer.
This year, I just want to play against the best competition. That’s why I’m going out here and playing in the EYBL with the Southern Stampede. So pretty much this summer, well, last summer going in, I only had two or three scholarship offers. Now I don’t really have to worry about that.
Has that changed your mentality or approach? That’s got to be a relief.
It is a relief. My mom and dad aren’t worried, there’s no pressure on me. The mentality on the court is that I’m not worried.
In retrospect, with some perspective, can you explain to the audience how that event effectively changed your life?
You know, definitely, it’s a good problem to have.
Well, your parents must be thrilled.
Yeah, they are. They’re thrilled. You know, it’s just a big relief. To me, I had dreams and inspirations to play high-major Division I college basketball and now it’s a reality.
When Duke recently offered, what was your initial reaction?
Definitely excited. You know, really excited. They’re the most prestigious program out there. They’re always in the Top 10, they’re academically always great, they’re a great school. It’s definitely something that excited me.
What do you know about the program? What do you know about Coach K?
I built a good relationship with Coach K. From what you see on TV and everything, you don’t really get a good view of him. He’s just a normal guy. He’s funny and everything. I think I built a really good relationship with him.
What did they say to you when they actually offered you?
They just thought I’d be a good fit. They see me as a combo guard, being able to play the one and the two, being able drive the offense.
In terms of position, what do you view yourself as?
I think scoring comes naturally first, but I enjoy playing the one, too. I enjoy setting up teammates as much as I do scoring.
What was the experience like winning your first state title recently?
That was the best basketball experience I ever had so far. The season before, we lost in the final four, so when we made it back, it made it even better.
Because you could taste how close you were?
In terms of the growth of your game since last summer, what do you think you’ve improved upon most?
I think ball-handling is big. I made a shift from just being able to play the wing to being able to play the point too. And I know, I mean, I think my shooting is a lot more consistent. You know, I’m just always working on my game, my defense, and stuff like that.
Do you think it’s a matter of exposure or improvement in terms of when you exploded onto the national scene (again, for lack of a better term)?
I think it was a little bit of both. I was definitely, improvement-wise, well, I think my improvement from 9th grade summer to 10th grade summer was huge. I couldn’t shoot a lick going into my 9th grade summer. I had never been taught. I had my elbow out and everything, so I focused on that and, you know, I think that helped a lot and also, you know, I’ve played in a lot bigger tournaments so, you know, that probably helped too.
Is there a player you try to model your game after?
I wouldn’t, but a lot of coaches compare me to Bob Sura. I never saw him play or anything like that. He played at Florida State. I’d never compare myself to that, but that’s about it.
For the vast majority of the audience that’s never seen you play, what are your strengths and weaknesses on the court?
I think probably my biggest strength is my attacking the basket and my athleticism. That probably surprises some people. And you know, when they have to watch that, I also will often take jumpshots.
And what about your areas for improvement?
I think ball-handling is something that I can always work on it. That can always be more consistent. Defensively, I want to be a really good off-the-ball defender.
(Jeff Rabjohns): Talk about Tom Crean from Indiana showed some interest. Where’s that at?
He’s been contacting me a lot more. They came out to my school last week and talked to me. They said they’re expecting to see a lot more of me.
JR: And what was their message?
Their message was pretty much that they want to see me play here and Coach Crean’s seen me play a couple of times.
JR: What’s your interest level? I know it’s early. When Indiana walks in the door, what was your thought?
I’m definitely interested in them. They’ve got a great program and I watched them play a lot this season. They were one of my favorite teams to watch, they pushed the ball. I mean, I loved the way they scored in transition. I liked the way they played.
Are there any misconceptions about your game?
No, I don’t think so, at least I haven’t heard any.
In terms of visits taken and planned…
I’ve been unofficially to Florida, Florida State, and Georgia..NC State, North Carolina, and Duke. I don’t have any planned right now. Nothing right now.
In terms of a timeline, how far along are you?
Umm, well, I’m definitely looking into it more right now. I have a couple of schools in mind that I’m really looking into. Just for me, it’s when I’m 100% comfortable with the school, I don’t know how long that’ll be. It could be next week or it could be next month, I really don’t know.
JR: Well, who are the schools that make you feel comfortable right now?
Um, well, the ones that are recruiting me hardest are Florida State, Florida, Georgia, Duke, and Gonzaga. They’ve really been recruiting me hard. I thought I’ve really gotten comfortable with them.
JR: Well, when you say a decision could be coming, you could really pull the trigger, like tomorrow?
Well, I’m getting prepared. I’m getting more and more comfortable with each school. I mean, nowadays, it’s just about the comfort level. That’s what it’s always been about for me. So, you know, whenever that comes, I’ll know.
JR: So, do you think you’ll give a visit to Indiana before that, or did Indiana come in too late?
You know, I’ll think about visiting Indiana before that. I’ve got to talk to my parents about that.
JR: So it’s in the planning stage?
What’s your current size?
6’4″ and about 195 right now.
Do you do a lot of strength and conditioning? It looks like you’ve really built up your arms.
Yeah, you know, I really don’t use any weights. I use my own body weight. I do things like pushups, sit-ups, just natural things. I do do a lot of plyometiric things with my legs, things like box jumps, things like that.
I’m assuming you’re a good student. You seem relatively thorough in your answers.
Well, I finished my first semester of the school year with a 4.4 GPA.
Wow, congratulations. People often reference your athleticism, where do you think that comes from?
You know, I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe my dad’s side, but I don’t think so.
Did your dad play at all?
I mean, my dad played a little bit in high school, but nothing after that. I really don’t know where it came from.
As long as we’re on the topic, maybe you can tell the audience a little about your family.
You know, my parents are a huge influence in my life. They’re always there, keeping my head in check, keeping me humble through this whole process.
What’s their background? Are they from Florida originally?
My mom’s from Florida. She’s born and raised in Jacksonville and my dad’s from a small town in southern Georgia.
And your unique name, how did you get it?
It’s a family name, it’s my dad’s middle name, I think it was his grandfather’s name.
I figured it had to be a family name. Do you prefer to make a three or a dunk?
A three is worth more, so I’d probably say that, but a dunk can swing so much momentum in the game, so that’s always exciting.
Do you watch any highlight reels of yourself?
Yeah, actually I do watch them a couple of times.
What are you looking for in a program?
Playing style is big for me. You know, I want to go somewhere where I can fit into the style of play.
And what style of play do you prefer?
I like to push the ball in transition, give the guards freedom, a lot of ball screens and spacing the floor. You know, I’m really so big on comfort with the coaches, that’s big. Having a good relationship with all of the coaches and the players, the people I’m going to be with for four years. That’s huge for me.
Absolutely, so fit is critical.
What would friends or classmates say about you off of the court? Or what would you hope they’d say about you?
(laughs) I think my friends would say that I’m really quiet off of the court. I’m a different player off the court than I am on it. I mean, a different person off the court than I am on it. I don’t know how it comes out, but on the court it comes out, but off the court, I’m pretty quiet.
That’s okay. That was the case for me too, but, fortunately for you, you’re much more talented.
Who was the toughest player you have ever defended?
That’s a really tough one. I think I’m going to have to get back to you on that one.
Like they say, I’ll be here all weekend.
What are your goals for this summer?
I mean, I just want to win. I’m not really worried about scoring or anything like that, I just want to win.
Well, that’s good.
Nothing really more than that.
So, how do you feel about your squad?
I think we have the talent to play with anyone. I think everyone sees that as well. We’ve just got to keep together as a team.
So chemistry will be very important.
Yeah, that’s the key.
Are you playing any other sports?
I used to be a big soccer player, but I gave that up when I was in 8th grade.
Do you think that helps with your footwork?
I think so. I think it really helps with that and my endurance.
Is there actually a guy you model your game after? Do you have a favorite player? Do you watch a lot of basketball on television, either college or pro?
Well, my favorite player to watch is LeBron. I don’t think I’ll ever necessarily play like him, but…well, I mean I just like watching him play. I like he’s just always attacking the basket, you know, 24/7.
Are you a Magic fan or..
(laughs) Oh, definitely, a Heat fan.
I didn’t know for sure with Orlando’s proximity to Jacksonville, but the Heat are definitely a lot more of a fun team to watch these days. Back to position for a second, at the college level, would you rather play the two or does it really not matter and you’ll play whatever gets you on the court?
I think it’s big that I can play both you know, but, like you said, whatever gets me on the floor.
Lastly, what would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
I think that I’d like them to know that I put God first. I thank him for all the blessings and everything that he’s given me. I’m definitely thankful for the talent and athleticism that he’s blessed me with. I’ve been able to use and build a platform for myself
Which verse of Proverbs is it that you have on the front of your Twitter page?
Proverbs 3:6. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” It’s something that I try to live by.
That’s nice. Thank you very much for your time, Grayson, and good luck to you in the future.
Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
The third of four children born to the affable Mark and Arrolyn Jones and raised in the diverse Dallas suburb of DeSoto, 6’5″ Matthew Jones, who, in late November of 2011, became the first pledge to Duke in the class of 2013, has carved his niche in this world by developing into one of the elite shooters in his class. Although he once described himself as a “chubby kid,” Jones grew well beyond his parents’ heights and has worked hard in the gym to stay lean.
The more recent focus of Matt Jones’ development has been centered around learning to handle the basketball more, being aggressive on offense, looking to become a better passer, and attempting to become a more focused defender. The beneficiary was DeSoto (TX) HS, which compiled a 33-3 record and was ranked nationally for stretches of the season, including after they defeated Simeon Academy of Chicago with fellow incoming Duke freshman Jabari Parker in an early season victory.
In recognition, Jones, who averaged sixteen points and nearly six assists for the top-ranked squad in Texas’ largest classification, earned All-State honors in Texas and was named a McDonald’s All-American. Clearly coming from a wellspring of a genetic pool, Jones joined his sister Jordan, a 5’8″ key freshman reserve guard for the Texas A & M Aggies, to become just the third pair of brother-sister McDonald’s All-Americans.
After playing more of a self-described “team game,” with four shots in thirteen minutes, at the United Center in Chicago for the McDonald’s All-American game, Jones felt the need to be more aggressive at this year’s Jordan Classic game at the Barclays Center. With his close friend and former AAU teammate for the Texas Titans, Julius Randle, a Kentucky commitment, suiting up for the East squad, Matt Jones teamed up with his future Duke roommate, 6’8″ Jabari Parker, to lead the West squad, which was coincidentally coached by his DeSoto coach Chris Dyer, to a 102-98 win in Brooklyn.
What was the experience like both here and the McDonald’s All American game?
It was a big honor. There were a bunch of great players and they were great people too. I definitely had fun with that experience. In Chicago, there was a lot of love. I mean, I really felt wanted and with the Jordan Brand, we’re just getting started. I know I feel like it’s going to be a great weekend. I’m seeing most of the same people that I saw last week. We’re definitely having fun, we’re definitely talking a lot. It’s been fun. Just getting a lot of gear.
That’s a nice backpack and case for your shoes.
Oh, yeah, definitely.
What have they got planned for you? I heard that you went to see Spike Lee last night. What did you see with him? Did you see the new “42” movie?
We just saw a bunch of clips and he was talking about them. I mean, Spike Lee is definitely an ambassador for the movie business. It was a lot of fun to see him.
It’s amazing the places that basketball can take you.
Oh, yeah, I’m grateful for the experience. It’s just such a great experience to just be here, to have this opportunity to be here and to see a bunch of great people. Tonight, I think we’re going somewhere fancy to eat. (laughs)
I mean, I’m definitely very grateful.
Did your sister give you any advice either about either your senior year or the hoopla that comes with McDonalds American game and the various all-star games? She had a great freshman year and she was really coming along at the end.
Yeah, she did. She basically told me to just soak it all in. I mean, she didn’t really get into like, a bunch of details or anything like that, but she just told me to have fun and live it up because you can only be in this place one time. To just soak it up and be hungry. She definitely just said to take advantage of the opportunities.
Your father said she was more like a firecracker and you’re a little bit more calm. Is that true?
Yeah, I’m definitely calm. I definitely get slandered sometimes by my dad for being too non-chalant, so I mean, it definitely rubs off. And she is a firecracker.
How would you characterize your senior year?
It was a great season. We beat a whole bunch of players like Cat Barber, Jabari, and Jarrell Martin..all of them McDonalds All Americans and I mean, we definitely had a good season. We didn’t end it like we wanted to, but overall. I mean, the ending was tough.
You’ll eventually get over it.
Size-wise, how tall are you?
I’m about 6’5″, 190.
What do you think you’ve improved on most since last summer?
I think really, my handle. I’m really just more confident with it. That’s really it, sir.
That’s good to hear. Has it helped your mid-range game, as well?
Yes, sir. It definitely does. It definitely like helps my confidence to create off the dribble more and just turn my shot into a more lethal weapon. A really lethal weapon.
I know you want to be a Ray Allen type of player.
What has the staff asked you to work on?
They haven’t told me much, but they told me to be more of a killer. To just have more of a killer instinct.
I thought you were a killer sometimes when I saw you, at least in AAU.
Yes, sir, I mean, they just want me to be more consistent with my killer instinct (laughs)
What did you talk about with Jabari? He mentioned you spoke with him last night.
Yeah, I mean, we just talked about life. Well, I just tried to get to know him. I just wanted to get a head-start when we go to Durham.
You might be roommates.
Yeah, we might. We definitely talked about a lot.
For the audience that doesn’t know him, what would you say he’s like?
He’s a great kid. I mean, he’s really funny. He’s just so down to earth for being such a great player. I mean, he’s just very down to earth and a humble kid.
Can you tell the audience a little bit about your family?
Well, I have two sisters and one brother.
Well, now, he’s a firecracker.
He is, he is. I have a sister that goes to A&M. She just finished her freshman year. She did pretty well and I have another sister that sings. She goes to the Chicago Institute.
I remember your father said that.
I mean, we definitely have a talented family.
Is Mason a player at all? He’s sort of a bigger guy.
He had a tournament last weekend and he hit six three’s, so…
So, he’s got your pure shooting.
Yeah, yeah. Yes, sir.
What position does he play?
He plays shooting guard.
I remember talking briefly with Kyrie last summer in Las Vegas and he was yelling “Uncle Drew! Uncle Drew!”
Yeah, that’s him.
Is there anything different that you’re going to do in this game that you didn’t do in McDonalds?
I think, basically, I’m going to be a lot more objective. I mean, at McDonalds, I was just trying to play team ball and trying to go for the win. But like, in this game, I just want to end my career right. I definitely want to go out there and get the win and be aggressive. Yes, sir.
I saw you picked the #13 for next year. How did you come to that number?
I just wanted to start a new career with the number 13. It really doesn’t mean anything in terms of why I chose it.
Have you thought about what you’d like to major in at all?
I haven’t really thought about it, but something generally with health or something like that. I don’t really know.
What would you like to do after your playing career is over? Would you like to be a coach or a broadcaster?
I’ve thought about coaching, but, like, I don’t know. Maybe Coach K will give me a ride on that chair, I don’t know. (laughs) But I don’t know. Other than that, I haven’t really thought about it.
Do you have a favorite basketball memory?
Probably the McDonalds All American game, so far. I mean, you know, last week, it was just such a prestigious event to be able to go there and soak it all up.
Well, I thought it was an honor you deserved.
Yes, sir. Thank you.
What expectations do you have for both you and the team for next year?
Just a hard working group. I mean, of course, we have a bunch of athletic wings and a really good team all-around. We’re just trying to work hard and an athletic team all around. We’re just trying to go hard.
What about from you, specifically?
Just a little bit of everything. I’m gonna try to use my shooting as a weapon all over the game and just go over there and play defense. I just love playing defense. I’m definitely going to bring that. I’m going to just try.
Is that the thing you want to be known for? Being a sharp shooter and playing lock-down defense, as well?
Yes, sir. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the mentality. That’s what I want to bring.
Lastly, describe yourself for the audience that may not know you.
I’m just basically a humble kid. I like to have fun. I’m just a normal person. I like to laugh and chill and basically just do whatever you’d see a normal kid do. That’s basically what I do.
And what’s your relationship like with your father? Does he give you advice?
I mean, he’s cool, he just gives me advice. He’s very religious and spiritual. It’s cool though. He’s just my dad, so he’s going to be there to talk to me anyway.
Yes, sir, no problem.
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
-Polonius, Hamlet by William Shakespeare
With the upcoming Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon left as the only major event in the high school career of one of Chicago’s most celebrated basketball players, Jabari Parker, the 6’8″ 220 lb. wing from the Windy City’s South Side, has managed to avoid the familiar pitfalls of contentment, sloth, greed, entitlement, and violence that have claimed the lives of many a schoolyard legend. Playing in America’s third largest city, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, having a father who played in the NBA, and being touted before he ever suited up for the Simeon Wolverines, Parker has been under the microscope arguably as much as any high school basketball player in the age of social media. In an area of a city rife with gun violence, Parker has walked through the fire unscathed, earning the ear of Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emmanuel. Jabari has served as the prototype for how to remain dignified, spiritual, loyal, and a legitimate student-athlete in an age of adulation and scrutiny.
Over the past four years, Parker, a devout Mormon, has transformed his physique from a somewhat chubby wing into a lean, athletic hybrid-forward. The Chicago Bulls’ young star, Derrick Rose, played for Coach Robert Smith at Simeon Career Academy and won a pair of state titles. Jabari followed in Rose’s footsteps to the vocational school on Vincennes Avenue, but raised the bar for future wunderkinds by winning an Illinois State Title in each of his four years and compiling one hundred and eighteen wins, including a 93-6 record over his last three seasons. During the past two summers, Parker has teamed up with his friend 6’11” Jahlil Okafor, a fellow Chicagoland product and Duke recruit, to form a potent one-two punch for both the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program and, in international play, with USA Basketball, including earning a gold medal after winning the FIBA U-17 World Championship in Lithuania last July.
Among the lengthy list of accolades that Parker has received includes Mr. Basketball for Illinois (twice), Gatorade National Player of the Year, USA Basketball Player of the Year, Parade All-American, USA Today All-USA First Team member (twice), McDonald’s All-American, and most recently, MaxPreps High School Player of the Year. If he continues on this trajectory, Jabari “J.P.” Parker, a polished interviewer, will be able to turn down endorsement deals from companies looking to be associated with the hard-earned image of a clean-cut winner with a disarming smile.
Relaxed and focused, Jabari arrived in Gotham with a fresh hair cut and a sense of relief, something that this year’s Jordan Game offered that the more celebrated McDonald’s All-American Game, which was played less than twelve miles from his high school, could not, due to the palpable feeling of hometown pressure and dissection. Parker arrived with Coach Smith, who served as one of the three coaches for the West squad at the Nike event. The incoming Duke freshman was intrigued by playing for the first time in the Barclays Center, an NBA arena that was partially owned by and located in the borough, Brooklyn, of his favorite rapper, Jay-Z.
Although not quite Ringling Brothers and, perhaps, a little messier, the ecosphere of high-level high school basketball can feel like a bit of a circus, performing in a new town each weekend. This weekend, it included stops at Pier 36 for practices at Basketball City, Junior’s for cheesecake, a red carpet meeting with director Spike Lee, performing in front of a Cy Young winner as well as an assortment of rap, R&B, and basketball stars, and concluded by a concert with the performer, Drake.
Michael Jordan, the iconic quinquagenarian figure who was born in the County of Kings, NY and raised in the coastal region of North Carolina before winning Championships at UNC-Chapel Hill and with the Chicago Bulls, was at the Barclays Center. The event’s namesake had to sit in a box far from the court and other celebrities, observing the next great Duke star score sixteen points, snatch seven caroms, and capture the MVP award for his squad, which won 102-98.
While this was largely the culmination of one chapter of Parker’s life, the multi-day event enabled a pair of future roommates on Duke’s East Campus, Matt Jones and Jabari Parker, who had merely crossed paths with one another, to lay down some kindle and truly get to know one another last Wednesday night at a Westin Hotel in Manhattan. Jones, a 6’4″ guard from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, said of Jabari, “He’s great. He’s so funny and it’s amazing how down to earth he is, considering what kind of a player he is. I mean it’s kind of shocking, but he’s definitely a down to earth and humble kid.”
Although he is now eighteen and has earned more than his fifteen minutes of fame, Jabari is largely the same young man that I encountered for the first time a few years ago: driven, open-minded, reflective, generous, and largely unencumbered by trappings of fame. His father, Sonny, said at an EYBL event last May in the Bay area of California that Jabari was “wired differently” than he was at that age and most young men are. It was a keen observation from a man that has helped many of Chicago’s youth, but, hopefully, Jabari, like his favorite MC, has provided the blueprint for others to follow.
I spoke with Jabari Parker most recently at the Jordan Brand Classic.
What has the experience been like playing both here and at the McDonald’s All-American game?
I think the Jordan game, well, the experience so far, has been great. I get a little bit more time to focus on what I really want to do. So I feel like there are no distractions because I’m away from home. Really, I get the chance to have fun and I love NY, I love the whole atmosphere.
I remember you’ve come here before. Do you do anything different in terms of approach? Play within the game, become more aggressive? How is your mentality different here than there?
I’m going to run up and down and feed my teammates as much as possible. I just want to use that style to build chemistry with other guys.
Including #2 on the team, Matt Jones?
Yeah, Matt, me and him, and I just want to get the win. Most importantly, play a team game and that’s what it’s going to take.
It looks like you’ve gotten leaner.
I’ve been working out and I’ve gotten a little bit thinner, I’m staying away from weight room. I don’t want to be as heavy running up and down the court. I’m trying to work on my footwork, I’m trying to trim down a bit, and really just work on my wind.
You just won your fourth straight state title. How is this different than the other ones?
It’s just been a very good experience. The best so far out of my career. There was so much hard work and dedication that went into that whole thing. Just to do it for my high school and to do it for my team. I never tried to take it in vain.
Did it feel different this time, knowing that this would be your last run, no matter what the outcome?
Yeah, and there was no coming back. All of the years of hard work, that was just the way I wanted to go out. But yeah, definitely, it felt different and it was in the back of my mind. Yup.
How would you characterize your senior year overall?
It’s been a great experience for me. I’ve been working hard, getting back to my game. It’s given me a little bit more character and it helped build me into a stronger person and I think it was because I endured a lot.
You’ve become more athletic and explosive.
Oh, yeah. I think that came with maturing and slimming too. I’m a late bloomer. I’m, well, I really didn’t start dunking until my sophomore year.
Your father was a leaper. He was explosive.
I felt like, well, I didn’t start dunking until my sophomore year, I wanted to become more explosive.
I’m sure guys come up to you all of the time and ask you for advice. What is some advice that you often give to the younger kids who are looking to make it like you have so far? What do you tell them?
Just have good character, be a good person, and always want work. I think you need to have a good work ethic. And most importantly, probably, is to be hungry. That’s pretty much it.
What are your expectations next year for the team and for you?
I want to win a National Championship. With the guys, I think that we can get it done. I think we can get it done with the group that we’ve got coming back.
Some great wings. Have you thought about what uniform number you want to go with?
Yeah, I wanted either #1, #13, or something in the thirties.
Those are your lucky numbers?
I’ve got to start playing the lotto. In terms of position, are you looking to play the three, the four, or even the two?
Yeah, the two/three/four.
Looking to take advantage of your versatility?
Are you recruiting anybody?
(laughs) No, I’m not recruiting anybody. That’s the coaches job.
What did you and Matt Jones talk about at the hotel? He said you and he got to know each other.
Oh, just personal things.
Oh, I’m sorry.
(laughs) No, no, it’s just a chance to get to know each other. We got a chance to know each other after playing with each other. We asked about our lives and our families, those kind of things.
He’s going to be your roommate next year?
We don’t know yet, but I think so.
What has Coach K asked you to work on?
Being a basketball player and having an aggressive instinct. I was approaching it that way, be aggressive.
In terms of Brooklyn, I know you’re a big Jay-Z fan. Is there any appeal about playing in Brooklyn?
It’ll be a great chance to play in the arena where he’s a part owner. It’s a great foundation where basketball can be built up to, whatever that means.
How do you assess your defense at this point?
It’s getting better, but I need to keep focusing on it.
Have you thought about what you’d like to study at Duke?
No, not yet.
Where do you think Jahlil will go? Have you given him any advice? I’m sure you talk to him all of the time.
Yeah, I talk to him all of the time, but no, I just leave that up to him. It’s a personal decision. What’s on him is on him.
What’s your current size?
Have you been working on your diet and doing a lot of cardio?
Yeah, I’ve been trying to work on both things.
Has Derrick Rose given you any advice?
No, not really.
Post-game press conference:
This was your first time playing in the Barclays Center. What did you think of the arena and the atmosphere?
I was just glad that had it in New York again. The Mecca of basketball. It’s always great playing here. It was a chance to get some exposure, playing in front of different types of people. It was a great experience overall.
Did you speak to Amar’e or Carmelo?
It was a great experience to play in front of both of them, particularly Melo. I don’t really have a personal relationship with both of them, but, as soon as we saw them and they met the team, they gave us a lot of respect. It was an honor to play in front of them.
Does this kind of come full circle for you? You start off the year with an injury, then you get back healthy, and here you are, at the Jordan Brand, game winning MVP?
It’s okay, but I don’t want to take it in vain. I just want to win. That’s the only thing on my mind. I really don’t go for individual accolades, but, today, I was very grateful to get the opportunity to be in the right situation and the right place at the right time. Anybody on the team could’ve won, but it just came to me and I was grateful.
What have you seen from the Canadian players both out here tonight and in international competition? Guys like Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis were out here tonight, but what do you think about this wave of Canadian players and, in particular, those from the Toronto area?
Well, basketball has become a really international game and it’s played at a high level all over, but luckily America…really North America still has the best players. We compete, but we’re all a family. It’s no different from the United States. It’s Canada. We’re basically the same. They have great talent and they’re real good people. Good players.
(Brian Fitzsimmons)You mentioned this week that you’re thinking about staying at Duke for more than one year. Is that the type of decision that will weigh on you in any way? Will it weigh on you over the course of the year?
Probably not. I just want to go to school and going to Duke is really special for me because people around my neighborhood …well, they probably wouldn’t even have thought of getting an education and so I’m just looking forward to taking advantage of different opportunities where I can grow. I don’t know where it’s going to be, but I always keep my eyes open and my options.
What was it like in terms of the process of coming back from the injury and trying to get back into shape?
Well, I mean I feel good now, but it’s been building. Thank God for my parents and the people around me. They’ve been helpful and supportive to me..trying to get me to go to rehab. Staying around and doing extra work. It’s not all me. It’s all of them. I felt like if I was going to go out there on the court then there were no excuses. If I couldn’t play, then I should sit down.
From an earlier event:
Were you glad to get the decision out of the way?
Oh, yeah, it made it easy. I didn’t have to worry about anyone bothering me (laughs). It’s been fun.
(Jim Halley) How much of a bother was it?
Well, it was necessary. That’s probably the right word to say. It was necessary for me to go and talk with the coaches and get on the phone with them because you’ve got to do your research. You’ve got to do your research and figure out where you want to be for the next couple of years.
(Evan Daniels) Why Duke?
Well, you can’t go wrong with Duke. I just felt that it was the perfect fit for me. They always win. It’s a private school so I won’t have any distractions. It’s not too far away from home and that contributed to my decision.
Did you enjoy making the announcement? I’m sure kids were coming up to you all the time and asking you where you were going.
Oh, yeah, it was fun. It was a real fun experience. It was great because eI had all of my teammates, who supported me, around me for the announcement. It was great for them to be able to be on ESPN and share with me the experience.
(Jim Halley) The night before the announcement, did you sleep well or we’re you up all night?
Oh, no, I slept good. I got like twelve hours of sleep. It really wasn’t that big because I already had my decision made and all I needed to say was the words and be prepared. In terms of the media, it’s been easy since then.
What are you trying to work on and get better at?
Rebounding, always being on the attack, and improving my athleticism. When you see guys like LeBron, Kobe, or KD (Kevin Durant), they’re always on the attack and, well, I’m just trying to get like that. You know keeping the defender on his toes.
When that shooting occurred after the game against Morgan Park, I was wondering if you worried at all about your safety or health?
Oh, no, I knew that I’d be fine because I’m always away from all of that stuff. I’m never really outside, but, for me, it was kind of emotional to see my city going through such turmoil and then everybody worrying about themselves. Then again, you know I have to do my job so that I can make it one day. I want to be a community activist and help people.
I know that you’re friendly with Mayor Emmanuel. Out of curiosity, have you made any suggestions to him about gun violence or anything like that?
Oh, no, I honk he’s got everything handled. You know it’s just always like this. You know that a couple of years ago it was just like this.
You think it’s just another wave.
Yeah, but every city has their problems and we’re just going through ours now. We’ll be good.
(Bryan Horowitz) You mentioned after you committed that your visit to Duke was actually your most boring visit and yet you committed to them because of the substance. There must’ve been something that you really liked about the school.
I think everything was necessary even though I didn’t understand it at the time. At that time, I saw the campus and it’s pretty nice. They’ve got great resources and a tremendous coaching staff that working twenty-four hours a day to help the players. Those were some great things. As a player, you always want to go to the Tournament and, at Duke, you’re always going to the Tournament. They’re always going to give you the opportunity and you just have to be able to handle resources from there.
(Bryan Horowitz) Do you see yourself being able to step in next year and be a leader?
Well, I just think that I need to step in and be hungry. I need to be twice as hungry next year. Of course, I want to be a good teammate. That’s all. I know it’s going to be a little difficult accepting me as a player, but I’m going to learn my role and not try to step on anybody’s toes.