Tonight provided Duke fans their first real look at Jabari Parker in a game that counts and he didn’t disappoint them, scoring 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting from the field. Blue Devil Nation caught up to Parker for his post game comments –
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke freshman Jabari Parker is one of 15 players on the Oscar Robertson Trophy Watch List as announced by the USBWA Tuesday. Parker, one of four freshman named to the list, opens the season for Duke Friday, Nov. 8 against Davidson (7 p.m. – ESPNU) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Parker, an All-America selection by several preseason publications, made his Duke debut at the Blue Devils’ annual Countdown to Craziness event Oct. 18. He dazzled the crowd with his play in the Blue-White Scrimmage, finishing with 24 points and 14 rebounds, and in the dunk contest when he jumped over three kids from the Duke Children’s Hospital.
Parker continued his solid play in exhibition wins over Bowie State and Drury as the Chicago native averaged 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. He shot 52.9 percent (9-of-17) from the field and 71.4 percent (10-of-14) from the free throw line in exhibition play.
Oscar Robertson Trophy Watch List
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
C. J. Fair, Syracuse
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Gary Harris, Michigan State
Joe Harris, Virginia
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Mitch McGary, Michigan
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Jabari Parker, Duke
Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Julius Randle, Kentucky
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Russ Smith, Louisville
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that he voted for Rodney Hood as a captain but the reality is the team votes and they chose senior Tyler Thornton and Rodney Hood. It is clear that Krzyzewski is showing Hood that he is depending on his play and leadership. As for Thornton, he was a no brainer in my opinion in that he shows toughness and leadership and is willing to do what it takes for his team to succeed. He hinted that seniors need to understand their roles and it is not necessarily about minutes but more about maturity and understanding needs.
New Team, New Strategy
Coach Krzyzewski said that the goal in the seasons first full practice is to implement a system that is personalized for an athletic team. Versatility is the keyword with this seasons team and they’ll have to use that to their advantage to off set the lack of post depth. Duke will ask their players to guard multiple positions and the reason is simple, look for a team full of wings to play a lot of switching defense and up tempo on the offensive end. “I think it will be a team we will play more guys in a game and not just blowouts,” said Krzyzewski. In the past, some would have thought that to be coach speak, but there is reason toe believe that not to be true in that the talent level is more balanced this season and as always Duke will play to match ups, meaning different players will flourish in different games. In short, the hot hand or hot play will earn you burn.
It starts with true freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood, two players who have never played in a game for Duke. But rookies? I think not. These are seriously talented and versatile players and Krzyzewski will try to blend the rest of his team with them. Amile Jefferson drew high praise in todays press conference and Krzyzewski said he would start if the season were to begin today. Jefferson is cerebral on the court and or allows the game to come to him where many players try to force things or think too much. Quinn Cook was also slated as a probable started by Krzyzewski but he left that fifth spot open hinting that he is looking for somebody to separate themselves in the coming practices.
More on Jabari
Krzyzewski mentioned that Parker never got fully back into shape but that he was still going through a growth process, on the court and physically. “I think who he is right now is not who he will be a month from now. I think he has a chance to get a lot better as he learns to play defense and he has this freedom of movement all over the court,” sais Krzyzewski. It is clear that Duke will allow Parker the freedom they did to say a Luol Deng in his freshman season. The team wants him to grow into a well-rounded role and quick and they will give him every opportunity to do so. “Whether he (Jabari) measures up to the level you (media) want, I don’t know. But he’s measured up to the level I have and I think he can improve a lot,” said Krzyzewski. He went on to say Parker did not have any demons and that he had a desire to be really good.
Amile Jefferson earns praise
Krzyzewski alluded to good summer work with Amile Jefferson where the team could work out players more and said he compliments Parker and Hood well. Again. the core has been set with Hood and Parker and he is looking for players to adjust around them.
What does that adjustment mean?
It’s hard to say with certain clarity what Krzyzewski means when he talks of other players fitting in, but he hinted that Quinn Cook would not be a traditional bring it up point guard nor would his team have a traditional position look. My guess is that he is looking for versatility and interchangeable roles in is lineup and it may take players like Rasheed Sulaimon a little bit more time to adjust than it did a season ago. how much of a luxury does Coach K have in that he barely mentioned a few of his talented players?
Man and a half
One of the things the long time Duke coach said was that he expected other teams to have to guard or concentrate on Hood and Parker. “They’ll be guarded by a man and a half,” said Krzyzewski. What this means is that he will have other players open when this happens.
Excitement clear to see in Krzyzewski
Make no mistake, Coach K seems really excited to get the season underway. He had his usual high energy and was getting in his last little jokes and such before he goes into his annual very serious mode. He obviously likes his team and the challenges ahead. “There is going to be a lot of transition stuff with our team,” said Krzyzewski and fans a certainly waiting to see just what he is talking about.
Duke will hold an open practice free to the public at 10:00 tomorrow morning.
While football season is set to kick off this weekend, echo’s can be heard from dribbling of basketballs in Cameron and the practice facility. In about another week, pre seasons hoops magazines will hit the newsstands and there will always be talk around one of the most storied programs in America. With that said, here is our latest Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update for our members and there is plenty to read about. First, we have Duke Assistant Coach Jeff Capel sharing his thoughts on every player including the freshman. I then give my analysis and add some nuggets. This update also addresses recruiting and we even take a look into what to expect this coming season with concern to style of play. So, here we go with a 3700 plus word update on the latest on the Duke Hoops front –
This is the first year due to NCAA rule changes that Duke has been able to work out more with their team over the summer. That means they had two one hour practice just about each week. “They’ve been some of the toughest practices I’ve been a part of since I’ve been back at Duke,” said Capel. These one hour practices were very intense and fast paced were at a high level. There has been intensity and greater fighting for positions.
The pace that the players have been exposed to this off season has been different than anything any of them had done at Duke in the past per Capel and word is that some tongues have been dragging after some tough conditioning.
Duke is now looking for separation. The staff is trying to figure out who guys are right now and once an assessment is made, they will use that to talk to them and define roles for the coming season. “We tell them here is what you need to do to get to where we want you to be by the time we kick off the season,” said Capel.
The Blue Devils staff sits down each season to adjust their strategy for the coming season and it’s supposedly quite the skull session. When roles are defined, it is important to success that each player buys into their assignment for if not there could be a fracture in team chemistry. Coach Krzyzewski will map a strategy and or plan and [private] the work will begin and this has likely already happened but only just recently. What Krzyzewski does is allow his teams strength to dictate the strategy. A year ago, Duke was a big team and they played a controlled game taking break opportunities when they became available but not necessarily pushing the ball at all times. This season, he has a team that can press more and move and he will likely master spacing his guys properly creating some serious match up problems for some opponents. Without the depth at the big man spots a season ago, it will be rebounding by committee and there will be times when a power player may go off on Duke but a three pointer is greater than a dunk, so the Blue Devils can get past that issue. Many of you may not remember the great Len Bias formerly of Maryland who died an untimely death after being drafted by the Boston Celtics. When he played his last game in Cameron, he was dominant, dropping 33 points and having his way inside, but Krzyzewski allowed that to happen while shutting down everybody else on the Terps team and Duke coasted to a comfortable win. I can see that happening this season in some manner, the point being, the teams strengths will almost certainly be better than their weaknesses.
Here is a long look at the players, followed by a recruiting update for members –
“He went home this summer and we have allowed him to showcase his talent. It is important for us that his role can be significantly more this year and that is something I think he wants so he has worked hard to prepare for that. His ability to guard different positions and his ability to be unique on offense is intriguing for our team. He’s a basketball player. he can handle the ball, score around the rim, a good passer, he just has a good feel,” said Duke Assistant Coach Jeff Capel in a recent conversation.
Jefferson is like any Philly kid, he loves his home, so he returned there this summer but he balled with some good talent while there. Duke likes his versatility and that likely means he could start, but we’ll see. I personally think Duke will rotate the 5th position in the line up according to match ups this season. Amile brings that old school cerebral play
“The big thing with Marshall is to just get healthy. Last year, until the time that school started, he was playing very, very well and would have made our rotation. He was never healthy when he came back and had surgery after the season, so we have just wanted him to get healthy. He’s worked hard this off season and worked with Will Stephens, with strength and conditioning The key is to maintain the weight as he gets ready to start running and burning calories. Marshall is going to be important for us in that he’s our biggest guy this season and if he embraces his role with rebounding, screening and running, then he can contribute all season long,” per Capel
Plumlee just started running a week or so ago but he has not progressed where he can make sharp cuts yet, so there is a way to go here. The hope is for the added weight to stick or at least half of it once he starts to run with the team. A season ago, many felt Coach K saying he would have been in the rotation coach speak, but Plumlee seems to be set for a role provided his legs return and there is no set backs. Dude drank a ton of muscles shakes per Will Stephenson orders and did a lot of under water work during rehab.
“He has a special skill with the three ball and he can impact a game instantly. It’s been great to have him back and he’s worked hard to get into shape and develop skills. He’s been through a lot on and off the court and has the ability to share those things with our younger guys. He’s been a part of a national championship but he’s also lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The main thing is he arms us with a weapon with his ability to shoot the basketball. Whatever role he earns on this team is up to him. He can put up points in a short time,” said Capel
Dawkins has been through a lot off the court with the passing of his sister. He worked in the off season with a trainer and decided he wanted to return to the team in the season ending exit meetings and a plan was formed. Dawkins can have a quick effect on the game with his abilities and the key will be for him to bring that consistently and not be a kid just hanging out around the three point line as he got into the habit of when we last saw him. A mature Dawkins is a good thing and he’s a player who will not shy away from that big shot if it presents itself.
With Jabari his skill set and talent are very unique, so we don’t know the exact spot or a position on the floor he’ll play other than he”ll be a really good player, so you are going to see him all over the floor doing a little bit of everything. It will literally be everything. He can bring the ball up the floor and initiate things and he’s one of those guys on the team we feel he can do those kind of things along with Rodney. We don’t want to limit his abilities or strengths, so he’ll be used in a lot of different ways.
Parker has done everything the staff has asked of him and has a focus which is important for a player of his hype stature and the mere fact he’s a freshman. Coach Krzyzewski used Luol Deng in a similar role, but Parker has much better post skills. I think what we are seeing is that the staff will allow Parker free reign from the word go and they’ll seek to not pigeon hole him into what we’ll call a traditional position. I can see Parker playing pretty much every position on the court on defense, but doubt he will be needed against the point other than on presses. The word is that Parker has showed well in practice and that alone is enough to excite the fan base as if they are not already stoked enough for the coming season.
“Quinn had a great season last year. He was a third team All ACC pick and the MVP in Atlantis. One of the big mistakes that Quinn or anybody can make is thinking it’s going to happen this year because of last year. This year will be different and the way we will play will be very different. Quinn had a great summer and he came back in really good shape as a player. It’s his team or a chance to be his team but he has to still work to make that happen and come to play every day. Quinn should be a very intrical part of the team this season,” Duke Assistant Coach Jeff Capel.
Quinn spent a lot of time at home in the D.C. region working out with some of the fine talent in that area and he comes back in tip top shape and condition per sources. Cook has a chance to take another leap this season and to do that he needs to learn to control the game and his team. If Cook can blend early on with his teammates, the upside is enormous. Cook has been playing with a lot of confidence this off season and if the maintains his mental focus first and foremost, he will be in the discussion as one of the best point guards in the country by seasons end. Cook knows there is a savvy senior in Tyler Thornton and a sleek sophomore in Rasheed Sulaimon capable of of running the point waiting in the wings, so I expect we’ll get his best effort this season. His ball pressure and his ability to defend has stood out the most about Cook in our eyes.
Tyler is unquestionably a leader on this team. He is probably the most respected guy on his team and he’s found a way to contribute each year here since he was a freshman. Tyler brings intangibles, Tyler effects winning and he does a lot of things that do not show up in the stat sheet but for people who truly understand basketball they can appreciate what he brings to the team. He’s a guy who you want all your team to look like in that he is totally immersed in winning..
Thornton has always found a way to get on the court in that he is tough as nails mentally and physically. Thornton is a gentlemen in every sense since I met him as a junior on the recruiting trail, but he’ll talk a little smack out there if it can get under the other teams skin and that kind of thing is needed. I think he gets a captain spot on this seasons team in that he is respected by all.
“I think Alex has had a great off season. It’s probably the first time he has been completely 100% invested in himself and I think he would tell you that. I think this summer he chose to remain here for both summer sessions when in the past he would go home or play with the Finnish National Team. He had a chance to do both of those things again this year but he chose to stay and I think that has helped his level of confidence. Every player and coach knows how much talent Alex has, but the thing for him is to have the confidence to play that way, through mistakes and to have the confidence to play and react without thinking so much. The way we will play this year will help him and that will blend itself for him not thinking as much and just reacting,” said Capel.
Just play, don’t think. Has to believe in himself. This is what I hear on Alex and it seems he’s bought into the suggestions. Did you know that he has been in the starting line up for each of the last two exhibition openers? Murphy has made off season strides but we’ll only now how much so when we see him play again.
“Matt is a really good player who has done a good job since he’s been here. One of the things with Matt is he has been coached really hard in high school and his coach did a great job this past season teaching him defense. With the AAU program he played for he was coached really hard, so he’s been held accountable and a lot has been demanded of him. He’s been able to adjust very quickly to the speed of the game. Speed and defense are the two biggest things high school guys must adjust to and most do not play defense in high school. he works really hard and he’s going to fight to be an important guy on his team,” – per Capel.
Great family, solid kid. Doesn’t cut up a lot or act out. Kind of what any parent or coach would want, right? Remember when I said he could be the odd man out this coming season due to depth. Well, I take that back for by all accounts he is playing better than a freshman should, meaning he has worked hard knowing that’s what it will take to crack the line up with this seasons wing loaded roster. The word is that he has thrived in the weight room and gotten stronger and he’s becoming the X-Factor freshman in my eyes.
I think all the freshman will have to adjust to the speed of the game but Semi is probably the strongest kid who has walked through the doors here as a freshman. He’s the kind of guy who if he tested at the NFL combine he would do well and probably be a first round pick just based on his body and athleticism. He prepares and carries himself well and he is confident, add to that he can really shoot the basketball. He fits the mold of versatility that will be prevalent on this team. He can be asked to guard many guys and he can use his size and strength.
When you first see Ojeleye, you quickly notice his chiseled body which is akin to a juniors physique. The key for Ojeleye is to adjust to the speed of the game. He didn’t have bad coaching in high school or the AAU circuit, but it could have been better, so there will be the usual freshman learning curve. Still, he is capable of guarding multiple type players and that will be of immediate value if grasps system basics.
“A very talented young guy and a great kid. This will be a really big year for him. When you have a freshman year like he did, you come back but do you make the jump or do you just rest and think going to happen. He was an important part of the Team USA squad that won the Gold Medal, so he’s had a good summer. He jumped right in when he came back with what we were doing . A talented kid who can play off the bounce and he’s a guy wee want to move around a lot this year and he progresses as a player.” Jeff Capel
As a sports reporter when I talk with Sulaimon, he’s the kind of kid I would want as a parent. Humble, yet confident in his abilities, Sulaimon can be a go to guy on this seasons team with his ability to break down his opponent off the dribble. Sulaimon has realized it takes hard work to succeed and with a year behind him, the lessons learned from a season ago will pay dividends.
“Well, he’s really talented and he’s gotten a lot better since he’s been here because he’s worked and he’s been touched by this culture. He’s gotten stronger, more athletic, he’s shooting and handling the ball better. At Mississippi State he was sort of a catch and shoot guy, so we were a little surprised as we went through practice at how good he is off the bounce. He’s a guy who can play multiple positions and guard multiple positions, so he will be asked to do that in our system. When you come to Duke the expectations are different than most other places, so you have to learn to deal with expectations. But Hood has had three really good seniors to watch a season ago, so he’s learned how to conduct his business from how they handled things,” states Capel.
Rodney is a completely different player than he was at Mississippi State where he did not get the best coaching. Duke has tried to instill confidence in Hood, who will finally be seen by fans. What I worry about to a degree is that he has been saddled with a lot of expectations and hype, more-so than any other player on the roster. However, this will be a hungry player and a mature one and a sure starter. In fact, I still say Hood, Sulaimon and Parker will be the main three options on offense. Hood has a nice mid range game, so do not expect a dominating rebounder despite his height in that he is more wing than power.
“Josh is a player who has started games for us, so he’s had an important role. As a senior, he’s been through early exits in the tournaments, part of big wins and has simply been through a lot. He can play a lot but we don’t know for sure. He will have a role on this team,” said Capel.
When Hairston and Thornton were recruited to play for Duke, it was during a time when the Blue Devils were experiencing a bit of a drought in recruiting. They were dubbed “program kids,” which means they embody what one would want out of a young man with concern to character. Hairston will be in a position to offer leadership this coming season but how he accepts his role will be the key.
We all know that Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones will visit the Duke Campus together during the last weekend of October. I still have mad confidence that Tyus Jones will be a Blue Devil and Okafor as well, just not at the level of Jones. Before you reads into that too much and start a worry-fest, I feel good about both players and predict fans will be happy when the dust clears. There is a reason the last visit is scheduled for Durham, that being I think both kids know Duke is their leader whether they say so in public or not. At this point it would be a major upset of Jones went elsewhere and I do not buy into the worry about Kentucky one bit, even though traditional wisdom may be to never count them out.
Kavon Looney will visit the weekend when Duke is at Memphis in football and the Blue Devils seem to feel quite good about their chances here but this one still has a few things which need to fall into place. Duke has been the highest riser of any team on his list and the staff will have Looney all to themselves and will be able to spend some serious time with his family. The stars could be aligning themselves nicely here, so stay tuned.
The two prospects Duke is working hardest on for a visit are Myles Turner and Diamond Stone, two bigs. Duke faces a tough battle for the service of Turner but the two like each other a lot and that could lead to a possible visit during Countdown to Craziness. In fact, both Stone and Turner could make the event if all goes well but recruiting is liquid as are the prospects schedules, so this one needs to play out more. Duke Assistant Nate James has been the lead on these two guys.
It’s that time of year when fans hang on every little thing said, be it rumors or just speculation with recruiting and no player has had more worry connected to him more than Justise Winslow who plays his hand carefully at the game we all love to follow. Winslow has been recently linked to a late UCLA run and even a package deal at Arizona. The Wildcats worry me, UCLA does not. The Bruins are late to this party while Zona has been on Winslow longer than Duke. Still, Duke has a legitimate shot here and are very much in the race until his announcement. Word is Winslow is feeling a little pressure about making a decision and will have a had time telling a coach no, but that too is not unusual. No additional visits are set in stone at this time with Winslow and while I felt he was ready to pop at one time, it seems his decision could come later than anyone might like. Still, there is reason to believe he is close and has an idea where he wants to go. Expect another cut down on his list and his family and or Justise seems to really be concerned about making the right choice here, thus the stretch. It’s Duke or Arizona if my sources are right and they usually are.
Want a possible new name on the radar? Henry Ellison, a 2015 corn fed prospect got a call from a Duke Assistant recently and was told they would keep an eye on him. Some say he could really grow into a force and he can stretch the court with his ability to hit the three. [/private]
Josh Hairston recovering from surgery
If you have ever been to a game at Cameron, you have seen the extroverted Josh Hairston getting the Cameron Crazies revved up during player introductions. It’s one of the reasons Josh is a fan favorite. Please send Josh well wishes as he is recovering from surgery to repair ligament damage in his right thumb. Josh is expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks. He injured himself during practice last season, but played through the pain. He joins Marshall Plumlee among the walking wounded; Plumlee has been seen in a cast in and around Durham. Although nobody likes being injured, we can at least take comfort in knowing that all Blue Devils receive some of the finest medical care available through Duke University, one of the nation’s leaders in health care.
And Duke will play Michigan
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is alive and well for now, but with the added depth in the ACC, it makes one wonder how long the league coaches will want to schedule an extra big-time game going forward. But this coming year, on December 3rd in Cameron, Duke is slated to take on a Michigan team that will be one of the nation’s best. The Crazies and the entire Duke fan base love these kind of games, so expect this one to be one tough ticket. Adding to the interest is that the beastly former Duke recruit Mitch McGary comes to town wearing Maize and Blue. Interestingly, the day he signed with the Wolverines, he mentioned the possibility of going to Cameron and getting booed. Congratulation, Mitch. That dream will come true. It will be interesting to see how Coach K and company defend the aggressive McGary with a roster with some challenges in the post. That is the Blue Devils’ only apparent weakness at this point, so look for them to try to compensate with solid play on the wings.
Over the past three years, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and to some extent, Julius Randle have played musical chairs as the top-rated high school prospects in the nation. Wiggins signed with Kansas yesterday, spurning the ACC’s Florida State Seminoles. But ACC and Duke fans will still see him up close and personal when Duke travels to Chicago for the Champions Classic in November, where they’ll face Kansas. That means a matchup between Parker and Wiggins. Parker, of course, suffered an injury setback and many feel that may have cost him the top spot in the mythical rankings, but regardless, having watched these kids play over 20 times each in my coverage of AAU ball, I can tell you that they are both supremely talented. Look for the game to get a lot of hype from the Parker-Wiggins angle, but the winner of the Duke vs Kansas matchup will come from how the rest of the Blue Devils and Jayhawks perform.
As an aside, the Blue Devils will also play in the pre-season NIT, where they could run head-on into Arizona, another team destined to be in everyone’s pre-season top 10. So, do you think Duke will be atop the strength of schedule ratings next year? Of course they will. This looks to be one of the most challenging slates in years, and the full schedule won’t even be released until it is hot-hot-hot outside.
Kyle Singler takes his own path
Former Duke forward Kyle Singler has always marched to the beat of his own drummer. One attribute Kyle has is something that few men in the game possess these days: patience. Singler joined the Detroit Pistons this season after spending time playing for CB Lucentum Alicante, a professional team in Spain. When Singler was on the court this season, the Pistons flourished, so he earned plenty of playing time in his rookie season this year. His play earned him a berth on the recently released All NBA Rookie 2nd team, which is quite an honor.
First of all if you missed this recent article, you should take time to read it. Jon Scheyer is like many young men growing up playing the game in Chicago in that he has long been a gym rat. Scheyer loves the game of hoops and after helping Duke to win a National Championship in 2010, he sought to continue a career in basketball. There were setbacks along the way, but none more devastating than an eye injury in an NBA summer league game which would eventually cost him his career as a player. Scheyer has now landed on his feet in Durham. As Coach K (per Duke Sports Information) said after his hire, “Jon Scheyer is one of the amazing champions we’ve had in this program and he’s certainly one of the greatest young men to ever wear the Duke uniform.” Scheyer like many other Duke grads under Coach K came to the one man who could help him, the one man who could help him remain in the sport he loves — Mike Krzyzewski. One of the things which often goes unseen in the world of Duke Basketball is the importance of the “family” nature of the program. Former players can always seek wise counsel and an open door on the top floor of the Schwartz Butters Athletic Building on the Duke campus. Scheyer will now take on Nate James’ former role on the staff as a Special Assistant. During this time, Scheyer will have plenty of time to consider which direction he wants to go with his career. And for the record, the Special Assistant spot is fast becoming a very coveted position in that is offers a springboard into the world of Duke Basketball.
James hits the road running
Nate James gained an assistant coaching job a few years back, but when Jeff Capel, a former player, became available, it only made sense that he move into that assistant’s position, as Capel had previous head coaching experience. The move for James back to the Special Assistant role was only temporary and he was still able to learn from the best, which included Capel, Wojo and the now-Head Coach at Northwestern, Chris Collins. James is no rookie, and he’s hit the road running on the recruiting trail where he has been one of the lead guys on several key prospects. There is much more information on Coach James and his impact available to you when you join us as a member of Blue Devil Nation Premium, our subscription service. For instance, James is also taking a lead role with …
… Tarik Black
Black was on the Kansas campus yesterday, a day after his visit to Duke, which by all accounts went well. Duke and Black are in a bit of a win-win situation should they choose one another. Duke offers the best roster situation for Black, monster national exposure and he can play for a school which has had NBA first round picks of late with players that didn’t always see major minutes in college. Of course, there is no lack of time at Duke for Black, as the Devils need a big man to round out next season’s roster. If you read my comments on Scheyer, you will realize that Black can become a part of the Duke family and the family takes care of its own. Black would get maxiumum national exposure with the Blue Devils being a media darling and he would also have an opportunity to achieve his dreams of a championship. I don’t think it will be long before we know where the former Memphis player is going, so look for a decision sooner rather than later. Many feel that Josh Pastner never really used Black correctly while at Memphis, while others point to Black’s not being a good rebounder as the primary issue. Either way, Black is a most coveted “get” at this juncture. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. There are a lot of rumors on this one, but mostly just folks’ speculation taking on a life of its own.
It is also worth noting that Coach Nate James is the lead assistant on the recruitment of Black. James actually took a long look-see at Black during his junior season in high school, so Duke was involved with the young man earlier than most realize. In fact, Blue Devil Nation interviewed Black that same season and looking back on that chat, it was clear that Black valued education and hoops. Which is the combination that Duke still offers.
“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.