Tag Archives: Jabari Parker

NBAPA Camp Recap – The Duke perspective

Ojeleye addresses the mediaThis past weekend’s NBAPA Top 100 High School Camp in Charlottesville, VA was a different experience than in years past, and in many respects that was not a good thing.  Media access was restricted significantly, quality one-on-one interviews were very tough to come by, and the whole atmosphere was a tad flat.

Whether the reason was the coaches just failing to reach the kids, or the players themselves not bringing much energy, the result was some unusually uninspired basketball on a huge stage.  After a lackluster start to the event, the kids finally put their games into gear on the final day.  But the truth nevertheless is that more players hurt their ratings than helped themselves.

It’s no secret that Duke had only a few real targets at the event, those being Jabari Parker, Al Freeman, and Semi Ojeleye.  Here’s what I saw from those three as well as a number of others:

Jabari Parker - His skill set makes him a man among children. He can pretty much do it all on the court;  I saw no weaknesses in his game in the two games he [private] played.  When he wanted to score, he put the ball on the floor and scored, utilizing a variety of driving moves to do so.  Jabari was cordial and open with the media, but no matter what others claim, he did no one-on-one interviews, other than one national one.  Michigan State has made a move on Parker, but Duke is still right there. My pal Van Coleman, who you will hear more from this week, said he understood Duke led for his services. Maybe they do, but I am not by any means ready to call Duke the clear leader here.  A quick look at Duke’s outstanding offers and the way they’re recruiting certain positions suggests they may feel as I do.  The Blue Devils certainly are a player for Parker, but in all honesty I do not feel as good about it as I did a year ago when I felt he was Duke’s to lose. He will trim his list in July, and regardless, the Blue Devils will make that final cut.

Al Freeman - When I first heard Duke had offered Freeman, I was stunned. I had watched him play at the Carolina Challenge and frankly, could not see it. I haven’t changed my mind, or more accurately, his play hasn’t changed it. Freeman is a good defender who gets after it at that end, but he is not a point guard and certainly not a shooting guard either.  Dave Telep really overrated this kid early on, but he will drop in the rankings. Freeman is stuck in tweener land, and it hasn’t helped him that his chemistry with Cat Barber for the Boo Williams AAU squad has been average at best.  Nobody invited to an event like the NBAPA is a “bad” player of course, but in my opinion Freeman is just not a kid who can help at the level Duke plays.  Freeman had so-so numbers this weekend, and did nothing to get anyone talking about him. But I do give him high marks for talking on the court and trying to pump his teammates up. I was unable to catch Freeman for an interview, but from all accounts little has changed beyond his recent decision to transfer to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas.

Semi Ojeleye - As you already know, this kid is mature, bright and grounded.  But can he play?  Yes.  As Andrew has mentioned, Semi has that ESPN-ready game, meaning he will launch the 3 pointer and also throw down the thunderous dunk. It is a bit freaky to see a 6’6″ 220 pound player launch three point shots at this stage in his career, but Semi does it.  But he needs to tighten his handle and go to work down low more. He is usually stronger than his opponent, so get down on the blocks more, already!  Ojeleye is a good defender and had a lot of steals. His team made it to the finals, but lost to a team featuring 7’5″ Mamadou Ndiaye.  Ojeleye held his own  guarding Ndiaye.  7’5″?  That’s insane.  BTW, his first name is pronounced “Shimi,” and we had a laugh at me wrecking his name a couple of times after asking about it. Talk about tongue tied.  Ojeleye is a good team player and I would love to see him in a Duke uniform.

Anthony Barber - This kid is quick off the dribble, gets to the rack fast, and finishes well. He’s also stronger than he looks.  But he looks for his shot first and said as much to me in our interview. He will project as a PG and in time will be fine there, but right now he is a shooting guard. He lets his dribble get too far away from his body at times, causing a lack of control, but this is easily missed by many observers who are in awe of his speed. I think he should be a better defender too.  But again, he is a bit of a black hole, hunting his shot on every play, so it was not surprising that while Barber was the camp’s top scorer, his assist totals were less than impressive.  That may be the reason campers did not vote him to the All-Star game.  Regardless, in my book he was a top 10 player at this camp, and most other analysts agreed. Barber will remain at or near the top of the list when talking guards in his class. There are some kids you can tell are enjoying the game and Barber is one of them.  I like his game a whole lot, but I am not sure Duke likes it enough to offer.

Parker Cartright – So, I started to hear that Cartright grew up a Duke fan, so I made sure to ask him about that, as you will see in an interview. Most everybody at the camp liked him, but he looks like a junior high baller in that he has a slight build and may be 5’9″ on his tiptoes. The kid is unselfish and really involves his teammates in the action, and his speed can break a defense down.   He’s a pesky defender, but if a bigger player gets him on his hip, he has a hard time recovering.  He is high energy and has the drive to get better, and those are two things all coaches look for in a prospect.  Great kid to talk to and has offers from Arizona and UCLA, but he lit up when I asked him about Duke.  Problem is Duke is in with so many PG types, and many analysts feel he will be tough to get off the west coast in any event.

Cliff Alexander – I wanted to see where his head was and it is in the midwest. Duke will not waste its time unless something changes. He dominated at the camp and was clearly the best center there, keeping in mind that post play as a whole was not impressive in Charlottesville.  Alexander has a mature body for his age and has the will to battle inside.

Noah Vonleh - His game impressed me; his off-court demeanor did not. I hardly got anything out of him during a multiple site interview, meaning he plays it close to the vest and/or is not enthused. UNC is on him hard and Duke may get involved with this 2014 kid, but my impression from the interview is that it may be too late to get in deep here unless Duke increases its effort level soon.

Wayne Selden – Wayne Selden is always consistent, but he did not stand out this weekend. Duke feels he will be a long shot and will likely stay on the sidelines on this one, but I like his game and his size.

Kavon Looney - This was the first time I focused in on his game and I liked him a lot. The 2014 star can do a little bit of everything and he played well here, holding his own against older players, particularly on the boards. We tried, but never could manage to get together for a one-on-one.  He is worth keeping an eye on.

 

Others who caught my eye at the NBAPA Camp - Kuran Iverson, Andrew Harrison, Brannen Greene.  Iverson appeared to be more motivated than when many last saw him, and he seemingly impressed everyone. Harrison is a complete player and was the better of the twin brothers on this weekend.  Greene has improved leaps and bounds since the last time I saw him play.

Rodney Hood - No, he was not there.  But I got asked by everybody what I thought about his pending decision.

Small world - So one writer who worked in Indy and is now with Rivals asked me about Hood. Turns out he wrote that controversial article on Coach K that appeared in the Indy paper during the FInal Four weekend when Duke defeated Butler. It was the article in which they acted as if a child used a crayon on the front page, drawing devil horns on Krzyzewski.  It was tacky and unprofessional — a true brain poot by anyone’s standards. I then got the low-down and will only say he met with Duke officials per his paper’s request. For our SID’s privacy and others I will refrain from the details. He claimed he was awoken by a call from a friend, who asked, “What were you thinking?” He also claimed he knew nothing about it. When asked who did it, he claimed he didn’t know. Yeah, right. How does it not come out who took it upon themselves to let the paper go out as it did before being yanked off the newsstands?

Site shake ups – I saw Jerry Meyer in a 247 Camp and asked him when he went with them. As you know, 247 has courted us in a big way, but we chose to remain independent. Turns out Rivals let him and his big salary go, leaving Eric Bossi in charge along with the newly-hired Alex Kline, who uses smoke and mirror tactics better than anybody I know. Anyhow, I then learned ESPN shut down its High School division and that there was a major loss of jobs in the process.

Trouble ahead for the NBA? – A power struggle is brewing with the NBA and you could feel the tension in many cases. I had an interesting conversation with Dave Wasserman and while I cannot share what was said, let’s just say they will have a mess of legal issues once the Finals end.

The USA Basketball effect - Many were dismayed at the talent level at the NBAPA camp.  It was the worst I’ve seen to date. Some quickly pointed the finger at USA Basketball, but I found it interesting what the overall take was on the future of patriotic hoops. The consensus was that props go to Mike Krzyzewski for his role in getting the world’s best on the same page and wanting to play. But many feel that once he steps down, USA Basketball will lose a lot of its popularity, and as a result the camps will be full again. Only time will tell on this one, but the theory is plausible and if accurate, it’s a real testament to Coach K’s influence. Speaking of USA Basketball, I will head to Coach K’s press conference tomorrow, and look forward to seeing what he has to say about his upcoming adventures. [/private]

Jabari Parker: Grace Under Fire

6’8″ Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

After winning the National Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior, leading Simeon High School to a third consecutive Illinois state title and being named by Sports Illustrated as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James, 6’8″ Jabari Parker embarked on the last leg of the EYBL in Hayward, California, a town his father, Sonny Parker, lived in for two years while he was a member of the Golden State Warriors. This was part of the last go round on the AAU circuit for arguably the most scrutinized high school basketball player of the burgeoning social media age.

As part of the Nike EYBL for the Mac Irvin Fire, Jabari played in thirteen games this year, including six on the most recent leg, highlighted by a matchup against the Texas Titans, featuring 6’9″ forward Julius Randle. Parker, who has been more assertive and vocal on his final summer campaign, has led the Fire in both points and rebounds, averaging over fourteen points and seven rebounds, while always focusing on team basketball, a staple of his beloved Boston Celtics and a rarity in AAU basketball. After finishing with a 14-6 record in the Nike EYBL, the Chicago-based AAU team qualified to compete in next month’s Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina.

Gatorade Player of the Year Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

This coming week, Jabari is scheduled to participate in the  NBPA Top 100 Camp, which is now run by John Lucas, a former Golden State Warrior teammate of Sonny Parker for three seasons. The rising senior wing is the marquee player scheduled to attend, but will limit media access, so as to regain a semblance of normalcy to his teenage life. Following the event, the ambitious Parker will head to Colorado Springs, Colorado to try out formally for the USA Basketball 17U team, which hopes to earn a gold medal at the FIBA U17 World Championship For Men in Kaunas, Lithuania this July. Last summer, Jabari led the United States to a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mexico, averaging over fifteen points and six rebounds in twenty-one minutes per international contest. For his efforts, USA Basketball named Jabari Parker the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 2011.

Following a hard fought recent game, the always gracious Jabari “J.P.” Parker spoke with me about the upcoming USA Basketball role, his recent Sports Illustrated profile, the sanctuary of playing basketball in a church gym, and dealing with the exhausting scrutiny.

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What did you think of the Sports Illustrated article? Did you think it was a fair portrayal?

Yeah, I thought it was fair. I thought he did a fair job.

 

I thought it conveyed the Jabari Parker that I’ve encountered. How long did he work on it?

He worked on it for about three months, but mostly during the playoffs. He tried to follow me around Chicago a little bit.

 

Did you know that you were going to be the cover?

Oh, no, I didn’t.

 

Are you happy with the way it came out?

I was for like the first four or five days, but then it just became too much.

 People’s expectations?

Yeah, it became, like, well, you’re not LeBron. 

That’s what I wondered or thought might happen. I noticed some people in the stands making idiotic comments.

Yeah, I mean, I never asked for it.

Did they mention that they were going to compare you to LeBron?

No, they didn’t. It’s just a lot to try to live up to. I mean they didn’t just compare to an NBA player. They compared to the MVP of the whole league.

Sure, it’s impossible to live up to those expectations.

Yeah, I mean I’ve just got to play my game and help my team. Just focus on that.

 

How do you feel about your Mac Irvin team right now? You’ve added a point guard from California (Marcus Lovett, Jr.). Jahlil (Okafor) has stepped up. Do you feel good about your team’s chances heading into the Peach Jam in July?

Yeah, I think that we’re starting to gel. We’re trying to work Marcus in. The team is starting to come together and I think we have a good shot at the Peach Jam. 

 You and Jahlil mentioned the last time that you wanted to win the Peach Jam in memory of Mac Irvin.

Yes, definitely. That’s our goal.

You’ve also got, most importantly, the USA team trials coming up. I’ve seen Coach Showalter at several events. Are you guaranteed a position this year?

Oh, no, I’ve got to make the team. I’m excited about the opportunity and the chance to play for the team and represent the country. It’s something much bigger than all of us. A tremendous opportunity

 

Have they talked to you about what roles or responsibilities that you might play or have on this team?

Well, I think it’ll be pretty much the same role as the last time. I’ve got to be a leader and a scorer and help with our defense and rebounding on the wings. I’ll do whatever the coaches ask.

 

Who are the toughest guys for you to score on? Is it the smaller, but more athletic guys or the taller guys?

That’s tough. I think it depends, but I guess the smaller guys. The taller guys try to block my shot, but I can usually dribble right past them. It’s tougher with the small guys. I can shoot over them, but it’s also harder to dribble around them. I’m not sure. Sometimes, the tall guys can be tough too.

 

In terms of recruiting, do you have any visits lined up? Has there been any major change in your recruitment?

No, it’s pretty much the same. I’m planning on taking my official visits in the fall and deciding during the early period. I’m going to try to cut down on my list this summer, but, no, there’s no major changes. Same thing pretty much

 

Do you think or intend on playing with other great players in college? Does it matter to you who the program that you ultimately select is will be bringing in or already has on the roster?  

Yeah, I definitely plan on playing with other great players. I’m just not sure which ones. I’m going to be thinking about which players that I’d like to go to college with over the summer. Hopefully, we’ll be able to go to college together next year.

 

As you know, there are some guys that would prefer to showcase themselves for a year. For whatever reason, some would prefer not to share the spotlight.

Yeah, but I’d like to play with other great teammates and try to win a Championship. That’s the goal. I’m not worried about sharing the spotlight.

I know you’ve already played with some talented guys on the USA Basketball team, Simeon, and Mac Irvin, but I thought I should formally ask you, since some have brought it up or wondered.

Yeah, sure.

 

One intriguing image or thing that I got out of that article was the image of you playing and learning in a church gym with not exactly perfect rims and a painting of Jesus monitoring you on the walls.

Yeah, we would always play there because my area of Chicago wasn’t always great and so it was and is a safe place to go and learn and practice basketball.

It was frankly something that I could relate to. When I was about your age or maybe a little younger, my priest in New York gave me the keys to the gym to just shoot and practice.  It also had one bent rim, but it was kind of a sanctuary from some of the violence or problems at that time.  

Yeah, sure, it’s just great to have a place to go and get away from some of the problems and just work. It’s been great for me and my family.

Are you actually from the Hyde Park section of Chicago or do you just go over there?

No, I’m actually from the South Shore. We just go over there.

 

Do you find it any different or even easier not playing in front of the college coaches?

I don’t find much of a difference because I’ve gotten pretty used to them by now. It really doesn’t phase me too much. I just try to concentrate on the game and not worry about anything else.

 

Some guys prefer it playing in front of friends and family, while others prefer no distractions. How do you find it, playing in front of your parents and a lot of your mother’s family?

It’s good. I’m glad that my dad could watch me play and give me advice, if I need it. It’s great to be able to feel the love and support of my cousins too. They’re all very supportive and I appreciate them coming out.

It was amazing to see them all with the t-shirts with your Sports Illustrated picture on them. You’ve had a lot of family support.

Yeah, definitely. 

This area must also bring back a lot of good memories of the NBA for your dad.

Yeah, I think he just wishes that he had more time to look around, but he loved it.

 

I’m not sure if this is correctly attributed to you, but I thought that I saw somewhere that you said the attention “sucks.” Is that correct? Is that how you feel about it?

Well, it can be a lot or too much. There’s just a lot of attention and it can be too much. Sometimes, I’d just like to be a kid, you know.

I’m sorry about this. Believe me, the last thing that I want to be is a problem for you.

Oh, no, I mean you’re no problem, but I mean, sometimes, other people can be and it sometimes feels like it never stops. It’s just a lot to take in and live up to. It can get frustrating.

 

Has going through this final season of AAU basketball and camps been at all emotional for you?

Yeah, it’s begun to hit me. I’ve been doing this since, well, for a long time. I find myself, at times, going, you know, this is the last time that you’ll be doing this event or going here. It feels kind of weird to think sometimes that it’ll all be over pretty soon. I’m going to miss some of these guys. 

 

Thanks a lot, Jabari, for your time and, once again, I hope I wasn’t a problem.

(laughs) Oh, sure, don’t worry. You’ve never been a problem.

Good luck.

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Center of Attention: A Jahlil Okafor Update

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

Hailed as the best big man from Chicagoland since Eddy Curry, 6’11” Jahlil Okafor, the Brobdingnagian sophomore center from Whitney Young, has lived up to the high expectations. Last September, Jahlil was the first player that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a scholarship to in the 2014 class. It was a particularly early offer from a program that historically has been conservative in both the sheer number and timing of its offers, but clearly the staff felt that Okafor was an exceptional person and player. Jahlil was coming off of a summer where he played a critical role, shooting a remarkably efficient 71.1% from the field and 82.6% from the charity stripe, in leading the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Cancun, Mexico.

 

At Whitney Young, the Chicago academic magnet school that includes Michelle Obama as an alumna, Jahlil, a 3.4 GPA student, took on much more of a substantial role this season, while the team travelled all over the country playing challenging contests in California, the Carolinas, and St. Louis against nationally ranked teams like Bishop Gorman and Gonzaga as well as Chicago powers Simeon and Curie. After starting three games on a 20-10 team as a freshman for the Dolphins of Whitney Young, Okafor stepped up his game and made second-team All-State as a sophomore and MaxPreps named him to their Sophomore All-American team. Blessed with a 7’3″ wingspan, Jahlil averaged nearly thirteen rebounds, twenty-five points, five blocks, and four steals, while shooting nearly seventy percent from the field this high school season.

 

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

In early December, Jahlil, a pure low-post player who isn’t afraid to bang inside, visited the Triangle and took an unofficial visit to Duke University, touring the facilities and also watching the team practice. Twice this high school season, Coach K of Duke University returned the favor, coming to watch the sophomore big man play in person. In the initial viewing at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Coach K observed Jahlil score ten points and grab a dozen rebounds in a 46-44 buzzer-beating win over Prestonwood (TX) and 6’9″ force Julius Randle, one of the top players in the 2013 class and a Duke recruit. At the second viewing, Coach K watched Jahlil battle his Mac Irvin friend and fellow Duke recruit Jabari Parker, the Gatorade Player of the Year, in the state 4A Sectionals in Summit, Illinois. Although Jahlil had nine first-half points and helped the Dolphins take a 24-21 halftime lead, eventually the depth and experience of Simeon proved too much on that day, as the eventual state champion Wolverines won 52-42 ending Whitney Young’s season with a record of 16-10 against one of this year’s most challenging schedules in high school basketball.

 

After splitting his time between the Mac Irvin 17s and 16s last summer, the sociable center is anchoring the paint for the Mac Irvin Fire 17U team full-time this AAU season. This weekend in Dallas, the sophomore Okafor stepped up and had his best AAU weekend to date, leading the Fire to a 5-0 session and averaging over sixteen points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in twenty-one minutes at the third leg of Nike’s EYBL. This EYBL season, Jahlil, now 16, has been Mac Irvin’s leading overall scorer (165 points in 260 minutes) and has shot an eye-catching 71.7% from the field, helping the Fire to eleven wins in fourteen games. During the early live period, the Duke staff was a constant presence at his Mac Irvin games, including a memorable one at the Boo Williams Complex in Virginia, where the 275 lb strong young man tore down the rim.

 

After an EYBL game, the bass-voiced Jahlil spoke with me about Mac Irvin’s passing, his goals for this summer, and his relationship with Jabari Parker, amongst other topics.

Well, first of all congratulations on making all-state as a sophomore in Illinois. 

 It was an honor. It’s something I talked about setting as a goal with my Dad. It was great. 

 

This year you made much more of an impact on the team than you did as a freshman. You had a really competitive schedule. How do you view your season overall?

 Well, we had a couple of our key guys injured early in the season…

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton.

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton was hurt and Paul White as well. It put a lot of pressure on me and made me grow up a lot faster.

 

Speaking of that, it looks like you’ve lost some of your body fat. Have you been working a lot on your conditioning this year? I remember that it was something that you wanted to work on the last time I spoke with you.

Yeah, I was speaking with all of my coaches and the thing that they thought that would prevent me from getting to the highest level would be me being out of shape. I wanted to focus on that.

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You guys played a very tough schedule this year, traveling around the country at various showcases and tournaments. How does it help you now and into the future?

It helps. It just helps to play against other top players in the country, you know, and other top high schools. It was just a great experience. 

And you get to experience different places.

Yeah, yeah, definitely 

 

What’s your current size?

I’m like 6’11,” 275.

 

Let’s talk about visits. What about some of the visits you’ve taken?

Sure, I went to Nebraska recently. I’ve been up to Ohio State. I visited Duke. I went to North Carolina and Arizona as well. They’re all great campuses. 

Can you talk a little bit about each of them?

 Yeah, Duke speaks for itself. Meeting Coach K. it was just beautiful. It was great to talk to Coach K and look at their facilities. And North Carolina had a great team.

 Did you get to see any games in person this season?

When I went to Arizona, I went to a football game. I had a fun time there and the weather is always nice.

 

What were you looking for on those visits?

I’m looking to see how happy the players are on campus, how the players and coaches respond to each other, and then other students and how they interact with the team.

I remember that you said that you went to Whitney Young, not because of the basketball, but because it had the reputation for being the best school in Chicago. 

Yeah, absolutely, that’s right. 

 

You’re originally from Arkansas, can you talk a little bit about your background?

Yeah, I’m originally from Arkansas, but I moved to Chicago in the fourth grade.

I know you also have a Nigerian heritage. Was your father born in Nigeria or your grandfather?

No, my grandpa was born in Nigeria, but my father was actually born in Chicago.

 

In terms of roles, what was your role for Whitney Young and what do you feel your role is for this team? 

With Whitney Young, pretty much I had to do everything this year. I had to rebound, score inside, and block shots. On this team, I pretty much have one role: to be a dominant low-post man and rebound. I have a bunch of help on this team.

I was looking through my notes and saw that you wore your dad’s number. 

Oh, yeah, I wore #32, I didn’t even know it was my dad’s number, but, then, I wore #15 for my Olympic jersey, but I knew that was his number.

 

In terms of your recruiting timeline, how far along do you think you are? When do you think you’ll decide on a school?

I probably won’t decide on a school ’til my senior year.

 

Since you mentioned Tommy Hamilton before, what’s it like to play with him now that he’s healthy? Have you ever played with his father (7’2″ Thomas Hamilton)? He used to be a good player and a massive guy.

No, I’ve actually never met his father in my life, but Tommy and I complement each other perfectly well out there on the court. I like playing with him. 

 

Just out of curiosity, do you have a rivalry with Cliff Alexander (a 6’10” fellow sophomore from Curie HS in Chicago)? They seem to talk up on in the Chicago papers from time to time. He’s about your size and age.

Yeah, Cliff’s a really great friend. And I have a rivalry with Jabari and Cliff, but we’re all great friends.

 

Can you talk about that last playoff game against Simeon? It was your second time seeing those guys (lost in December at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion) and you lead at the half. For your sake, I was sorry.

Oh, yeah, that was a heartbreaker against Simeon. I walked away feeling like we should’ve won that game. There were a couple of plays here and there, but we’re really excited about the team that we’ll bring back next year.

You’ve got a good shot next year.

Yeah, I think so too.

 

(Interrupted by 6’10” sophomore Dakari Johnson)

Now, he’s a rival.

Yeah, Dakari’s a rival (laughs)

 

This year, you’ll be playing against seventeens exclusively. What did you gain last year from facing players that were two age groups up in the EYBL?

Yeah, everybody’s got better ball skills at the seventeen level. They’re more developed physically. It’s a challenge, game in and game out in the EYBL. 

I spoke with you after you played in your first game and you had just faced Elijah Macon, who was shorter than you, but built like a bull. You said he was the toughest guy that you had guarded at that time.

Oh, yeah, I remember.

 

One of the unique things about your game is that you’re a back-to-the-basket player in an age where there are a lot of big guys that want to face up or play away from the basket.

Yeah, it’s just something that I’m real comfortable with. I’ve been doing it since I’ve been in seventh or eight grade. It’s helped and now I have a lot of confidence with my back to the basket.

 

I know that you read some of your articles. What goes through your head when you see some local scouts saying that you’re the best Chicagoland center or big man since Eddy Curry?

Oh, yeah, I’ve read that, but..

You just go about your business.

Yeah, I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything yet. I’m hungry.

Well, that’s a good attitude. You’ve got those big, “soft” hands. How much of an advantage does that give you over your fellow bigs? Also, how do you account for having soft hands?

(Mac Irvin teammate throws a fake mouse)

Sorry about that. Yeah, everybody always talks about having great hands. I think it’s a pretty big  advantage. Well, at least, mentally, you know, knowing that you have them.

 

One dimension that you’ve worked on this year is your face-up game..

Yeah, my coaches are always telling that I’ve got to continue to perfect my low-post game, but I’ve also got to extend my range and expand my game.

I remember that was you wanted to add a jumper and be able to finish around the basket with either hand at the end of last summer.

Yeah, exactly, both of those things.

 

One things that helps you differentiate yourself from some of the softer big men is that you don’t mind contact at all.

Yeah, no, absolutely, it’s something that I actually enjoy. I love to get in there and mix it up. I love to be aggressive. 

And then you can knock down your free throws to help your team too.

Absolutely, you’ve got to take advantage of those free throw shots. You can win or lose sometimes by just a few shots, here and there.

 

You guys lost Mac Irvin over the offseason. He was obviously a major figure in Chicago basketball over the past few decades. He was always nice to me, but can you tell the audience your thoughts on Mac Irvin’s passing?

It was sad. You know this year we’re going to try to put our egos aside and just try to win the Peach Jam for him and in his memory. He was a very nice man.

 

Speaking of your Mac Irvin team, what’s your relationship like right now with Jabari (Parker)?

Oh, you know Jabari is just someone that I’ve known since seventh grade and he’s just somebody that I can always talk to.

He’s, sort of, going through some of the same things that you are, but just a year ahead.

Yeah, exactly, we’re experiencing a lot of the same things with the college coaches and the fans and everybody coming at you, but it’s just nice to have Jabari.

 

The next one I was going to ask you about, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t confirm if it was true. Someone said that before you visited there, that Coach K said something to the effect that you could’ve started or played for him this year. Did he actually say that to you or this just an urban legend?

Oh, wow, no, I didn’t hear that. If he said that, then it’s really humbling to hear, but I don’t believe that. I couldn’t have. It’s still good to hear.

You mentioned about five schools before that you had visited. Have you cut down or reduced your list at all?

No, I haven’t reduced my list just yet.

Who are some of the schools that you’re interested in?

Pretty much everybody. I’m hearing from Ohio State. I’m hearing from Duke. Who else? Illinois, Michigan State, DePaul, Arizona, and UConn.

 

In the Chicago papers, they’ve written a lot about that Illinois job and the hiring process. As I recall, you were a Sun-Times guy, but did you pay any attention to the various articles about potential coaches or Coach Groce?

I did a little bit. I spoke with the Illinois coach soon after he got the job.

Well, I’m sure that you’re a major target. He ought to be after you.

Yeah, well (laughs)

 

Lastly, let’s just close by talking about what you hope to accomplish this summer. 

Sure, well, first, I’d like to win a championship for Mac Irvin. That’s my top goal. Then, personally, I’d like to play hard for the majority of each game and keep my conditioning up. I’ve been trying to work on my conditioning and, hopefully, it can pay off.

 

I remember last year around this time you were focused on winning the gold medal. That was what you were targeting.

Yeah, well, we won the gold medal.

I was proud of you.

Thanks.

I saw that picture that you put up of you, Coach (Mike) Jones, and Tyus (Jones) in Mexico.

(laughs) Yeah, well, that was a great experience. Now, I just hope that I can make the team again.

Thanks for your time, Jahlil.

Oh, sure, no problem.

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Duke is involved with two studs in Jabari Parker and Julius Randle.  Parker pictured here, is at the very tops of his class as is Randle.  BDN Photo

Everybody’s All-American: Jabari Parker

Duke is involved with Habari Parker who gave BDN an in depth interview on the latest on the recruiting front. BDN Photo

Last year, we profiled 6’8,” 220 lb Jabari Parker after a Nike AAU event in Dallas, Texas. In the time since, the young man from the South side of Chicago has continued to lead an ambitious and altruistic life.

In June, Jabari led the United States U-16 Team to a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico. For his considerable efforts, he won the tournament’s MVP award and USA Basketball later named Parker their 2011 Male Athlete of the Year, joining such notables as Kevin Durant, Elton Brand, and Chris Paul. Afterwards, Parker helped his Mac Irvin AAU 17U squad to successful runs at Nike’s Peach Jam and the Fab 48 in Las Vegas.

This past high school season, the junior small forward led his Simeon (HS) to a 33-1 record and its record-breaking third consecutive Class 4A Illinois state title with a 50-48 victory over previously undefeated Proviso East. In the state title game, Parker finished with fifteen points and five rebounds, while being the primary focus of the opposition.

6'8" Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

Over the past two seasons, while playing a competitive national schedule, Jabari Parker, now 17, has led the Simeon Wolverines to a 63-3 record. This year, he became more assertive and, as an upperclassmen, took more of a leadership role on his Simeon team. As a result, his statistics all jumped across the board. The son of NBA veteran Robert “Sonny” Parker ended up averaging over twenty points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals per game, while achieving the primary goal of winning a third consecutive state title.

This month, Gatorade named him their National Player of the Year, becoming just the fourth junior to ever earn that distinction. This latest accolade came with the added recognition of his academic achievements (18th in a class of 377 students at Simeon) and community service (work with Salvation Army and Operation PUSH). For the first time in thirty-two years, a junior, Jabari Parker, won Illinois’ Mr. Basketball, winning by a sizable margin (400-72) over the next closest runner-up. Jabari was Simeon’s fourth Mr. Basketball, joining Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson, and Deon Thomas.

After a tough loss to a well-coached BABC team geared to shutting him down, Jabari sat down with me to talk about a variety of issues, including dealing with fame, recent accolades, the loss of Mac Irvin, winning a third consecutive state title, advising Jahlil Okafor, and embracing being a role model to Chicago’s youth.

First things first, what was your reaction to the passing of Mac Irvin? Can you tell the audience the impact that he had on your life and the lives of other Chicago young men?

Sure, him passing took a toll on me.

I was sorry to hear that.

Yeah, I didn’t really have a grandfather growing up. I really didn’t know him and, so I would really look up to him as another father figure in my life and that was my dad’s mentor growing up, when he was in the NBA, he had a chance to talk with him a little bit and so him not being here is like we’re missing a piece of the puzzle. Without him, we don’t have an inspirational guy. That means that everybody else needs to step up his role and get everybody involved.

Jahlil (Okafor) was saying that you guys have effectively dedicated this season to him, with the hope that you can win the whole EYBL in his memory.

Yeah, that’s the hope. This was really probably the first trip that he wasn’t able to come with us.

[private]

Mac was always very nice to me and I appreciated that.

Yeah, he was always a very respectful guy and it’s a shame that he’s not here.

On a more uplifting thought, you just won your third state title.

Yeah, that felt pretty good. You know being the first Chicago team to win three consecutive downstate titles. It really just makes us want it more. We don’t want to get complacent or become satisfied. We just wanted to go out and execute.

Did this one differ from the first two, for you personally, as your roles and responsibilities have changed? Did you feel differently about this one in particular because you’re more mature and had more of an impact?

Yeah, it was more different. The first two years, I was more humble, but, with this third one, I was a little bit satisfied. I had a big chip on my shoulder and the game caused me to humble myself. It reminded me that I’ve always got to be prepared that everybody will try to give their best game.

You had a few close victories against Proviso East in the title game and against Whitney Young (52-48) before that.

Yeah, they were real close, definitely.

You also had a huge honor recently when Gatorade named you their national player of the year. It’s a significant one because, when I spoke with their guy who handles it, he said that they’re always very cognizant of a player being well-rounded, in terms of being a high character person who balances athletics, academics, and charitable work. They basically want to try to make sure that the kids who win won’t embarrass their brand off the court.

Yeah, that was a huge honor for me. It was a really special one in terms of giving us a lot of exposure.

There was an interview you and your brother Christian did and I think he said of you, “Basketball is what he does. It’s not who he is.”

Yeah, definitely, basketball is what I do, but I really just try to use it to be a role model to the kids. I’m just trying to be a role model in my community.

Let’s quickly get back to basketball. Do you still train with your dad, brothers, and, from time to time, I think, Tim Grover?

Well, I haven’t really trained with Tim Grover in a while, but I’ve just been going on my own…to my own school and getting a lot of shots up. With my dad, he really doesn’t coach me anymore.

So, it’s just mostly your brothers at this point.

Yeah, it’s just mostly my brothers right now.

What about you and Rahm Emmanuel hanging out? It’s sort of unusual for a kid your age to be hanging around with the Mayor of Chicago.

Well, yeah, it’s been kind of special because my mom was assigned to show him around during the games and we’ve got a relationship for a while…, well, from last year, so meeting with him again this year, we all just felt a lot of support. He’s a very big Simeon fan actually.

Oh, is he? Well, that’s good for you guys.

Yeah, that’s been good for us.We definitely feel the love.

Speaking of your mother, I saw that she said,paraphrasing, “We all struggle together. Fame is fleeting. We’re no better or worse than anyone else.”

Yeah, that’s true. Fame is fleeting

I took it mean that effectively we’re all in it together, so to speak.

Absolutely, we’re all in it together and, with respect to fame, it can either bring you down or make you humble. With that, you can’t let it get to you and think that you’re bigger than anyone. You need to be there for everyone and be of service.

Has it been an adjustment for you as you’ve gotten older and people are obviously asking you for pictures and autographs?

I give them my time because I know that they’re probably only going to see me once in lifetime. So, it’s good and fantastic the things that I’m doing now so, you know, why not take a little time out to sign an autograph or take a picture.

There was a bit of controversy over you guys leaving your sneakers on the court after you won the state title, as a way of leaving your mark.

Oh, yeah, it was nothing really. We just thought that it was our way of leaving our mark on history. It wasn’t meant as anything too egotistical, but people are going to take it out of perspective. They were going to build into something that was a little bit more than what it was.

Another issue that came up recently was Cory Dollins (his best friend) going to DePaul as a walk-on and your high school coach trying to get in the running for a job at Illinois. Do those specifically or similar things have a legitimate or serious impact on your ultimate recruitment?

Oh, no, not really. I’ve got to go through the process and just go to the program that suits me the best. I can’t look at everybody and make everybody satisfied. Sometimes, I’ve got to be selfish on my own behalf.

What would you say that you’ve improved on most for fans that haven’t seen you play in the past year?

Oh, working on my defense would probably be the most noticeable thing. Rebounding has also been something that I’ve tried to improve on, but really just trying to be a better overall player. Not taking anything for..well, playing every possession like it’s my last. I’m starting to do that a little bit more than I used to. Looking back, I think that I used to take more plays off.

I think you’re also a little bit more assertive this year, particularly offensively, than you were in the past.

Yeah, I think a little bit. That’s a good word. I think I’ve become a little bit more aggressive on the offensive end.

Yeah, just a little bit.

Yeah, yeah, definitely

 

If you could target one aspect of your game, what would you like to tighten up most before you hit college?

Probably my body. I need to strengthen up. I’ve got to try to get, well, toning up. I’ve got to tone up my body.

Do you hit the weight room at all right now or not really?

No, not really.

You were mentioning before about being a role model, like the anti-Charles Barkley. I know you work with Operation Push, the Salvation Army, and prayer groups.

Oh, I don’t look for any attention. It’s just to help me out. It’s what I do. It’s part of my benefit. That’s what makes me happy. A lot of people see that and it seems to bring them joy and hopefully inspires them too.

So, there will hopefully be some ten and thirteen year-old kids running around Chicago wanting to follow in the footsteps of Jabari Parker?

Yeah (laughs).

Do you have any visits planned and have you taken any visits recently?

No, I’m going to take my visits in the Fall time or possibly in the summer, but that’s if I cut it down in the end.

Outside of that trip to Utah, have you taken any other visits recently?

Oh, no, not really.

Have you given any advice to Jahlil (Okafor), by the way?

Oh, yeah, I always try to get on him. (laughs) I tell that it’s going to be different next year than it was as a sophomore. He’s going to get a lot more attention. So, he’s going to have to be a lot more responsible. He’s going to have to choose his friends wisely and keep his inner circle tight. There’s going to be a lot of people trying to get involved. I just try to be a big brother to him because he doesn’t really have any siblings and, me, I don’t really have any younger siblings. So, I, sort of, look at him as a younger one.

You’re sort of going through some things now that he’ll have to deal with in a year from now, in terms of his recruitment and the attention.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just sort of giving him some feedback that I think he needs to hear.

How about, in terms of him, physically getting in better shape or conditioning? You mentioned earlier how you wanted to tone up your body, but I thought a major turning point for you was when you lost all of that body fat during your sophomore year. It took your game to another level.

Yeah, that’s a good point, but, with him, you know, it’s just genetics. He’s part Nigerian. So, you know, they’re naturally big people.

Some of my best friends growing up were Nigerians.

Yeah, yeah, so, with him,  I just tell him that he’s got to improve his wind. He’s got to run even better and be able to keep it up. If he can run, at his size, he doesn’t really need to worry about losing weight.

He’s got a bright future as well.

Yeah, he does.

Where was that when you wrote “All of my guys eat like kings?” It looked like a nice place.

Oh, (laughs) that was after the Gatorade award. I just wanted to show my teammates my support and how thankful I was for their help in getting me that award. It was a really nice place. I just wanted to show them my appreciation.

That’s it for me, Jabari

Oh, thank you very much for your time.

Absolutely, I’m just glad for all your successes. I was really happy for you.

Oh, thank you so much.[/private]

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans will be visited by the Duke Coaching staff this weekend and BDN will be there to bring you up to the minute coverage for premium members.  BDN Photo

BDN Premium – Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans will be visited by the Duke Coaching staff this weekend and BDN will be there to bring you up to the minute coverage for premium members. BDN Photo

The Duke Blue Devils Men’s Basketball staff will be more than a little busy in the coming weeks as the open recruiting period gets into full swing. Two prospects in Amile Jefferson and Tony Parker have yet to make their decision but the focus will soon shift to the Class of 2013 and 2014. BDN Premium takes a look at the new names and some you are familiar with in our latest team and recruiting update. And as always, our AAU coverage will be as good as it gets where recruiting analyst Andrew Slater will be updating you as the action happens this weekend from the Nike EYBL in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s a great time to join BDN Premium where you are sure to be happy with what we feel is the best staff on the circuit.

Let’s start with the class of 2012 and Amile Jefferson. The hybrid forward is expected to [private] make his decision at the earliest late this week and the latest next week. Jefferson has likely cooled on N.C. State with the return of C.J. Leslie but many will tell you they are still in the lead. Okay, NCSU types will tell you that. Had he been such a sure thing to the Pack he would have popped by now. The real competition for his services are Kentucky and Villanova. Both are making hard late runs but the recent transfer of Michael Gbinije certainly shows that their is playing time in Durham and I feel this is the Blue Devils biggest attraction.

Tony Parker on the other hand switched his announcement date for like the fifteenth time and is now slated to make his pick known at his Miller Grove High School next Monday. The buzz around the Jordan Brand All Star game was that he was UCLA bound and they are attractive to him. But Parker is a bit of a momma’s boy and I think it will be hard for him to stray too far. He seemingly is still bucking going to Duke despite his parents being in their corner and that opens things up for Georgia. After all that has happened, a Georgia choice would be almost a great end to what has bordered on comedy. Truthfully though, I don’t think Tony knows where he is going as I type, so there is still a crack in the door.

The coaches have been active at open gyms where Coach K went to see Julius Randle yesterday. The Blue Devils have the full court press on the behemoth in the paint and he is exactly what the doctor would order especially if they lose Parker which most feel will happen. Randle of course, is teammates with Duke bound Matt Jones for the Texas Titans AAU team and assistant coach Jeff Capel stays in regular contact.

This weekend kicks off our infamous AAU coverage where our resident recruiting analyst Andrew Slater will be in Minnesota for the Nike EYBL Session I. He will see the aforementioned Julius Randle and Matt Jones while there and we hope to hear from Randle. We hesitate to put too much of where our guys will be out for our comp tries to hire a stringer and the way I see it, we’re not going to help them do their jobs or allow them to ride our coattails at events. The AAU events provide some of the most unprofessional media types you will run up on and the rumors, gossip and games played are tiresome. BDN only wants to concentrate on what we do while avoiding drama being dropped at our door step without provocation. We will continue to adhere to high standards and bring you accurate coverage.

The Nike circuit is loaded with prospect this season and Andrew will also take a look at Jabari Parker (2013) and Jahlil Okafor of Mac Irwin Fire. Parker is the top rated player in his class with Randle close behind. Jabari had long been a Duke target and Coach K has a great relationship with the Chicago native. Okafor is in the class of 2014, a bruising post player who has showed early interest in Duke and the Blue Devils got on him early. Watching the Fire will be a lot of fun this spring and summer.

Boo Williams is back on the radar, the system that produced Andre Dawkins. Allerik Freeman who made a name for himself as a Duke prospect of late and Anthony Barber are firmly on the radar. Barber is probably the prospect which best fits the Blue Devils needs while Freeman is a bit of a swing man without a set position at the college level at this time. Coach K will be taking a close look at these and other players on Saturday and possibly Sunday.

During last seasons Peach Jam, Blue Devil Nation took notice of Howard Pulley and PG Tyus Jones where we were the first Duke site to interview the fabulous 2014 prospect. He caught my eye the season before and I could see where he would gain interest thus the interview. Since that time, he is the nations PG of choice. While not a flashy player, he is a stat stuffer, a winner and far ahead of his years with concern to maturity,

Then there are a bunch of kids we like to say are being evaluated. This means Duke wants to take a good hard look at them and determine which will make the cut or deserve further evaluation. Team Takeover features Ismail Wainwright and Beejay Anya. It will be interesting to see how their organization reacts after Michael Gbinije transferred. Anya has been on the radar and teams will look to see how his body is shaping up as he gets older. Wainwright is under evaluation.

CIA Bounce out of Canada has been producing some big time talent and Duke will take a look at Tyler Ennis and Andrew Wiggins. You have seen several interviews here past with Wiggins and he will be a tough get with everybody on him.

MoKan Elite will feature Semu Ojeleye, another player Duke will consider and then there is CP3 and Theo Pinson, another player you have heard from in 2014. Pinson is not expected to get serious for another year yet.

Andre had the foresight to talk with Wayne Selden of BABC and he is now on the Blue Devils radar as well and will get a good long look from the staff. A new name on the radar is E1T1 prospect Joel Berry.

Austin Nichols was a player we hoped to see with Nike but will not be in EYBL this spring and summer. He is playing with M33M team out of Memphis that will be playing in a local event this weekend and then will be at Real Deal on the Hill in Arkansas next weekend. Coach K will stop into see him on Friday in Memphis.

The Blue Devils are all in on Rodney Hood, a player we made you aware of three seasons ago who grew up a Duke fan. The staff is working with the Hood family for an official visit and they have made sure hood knows of their interest through contact. Hood would add versatility and a bit of seasoning after a good freshman year at Mississippi State but he will have to sit out a year,

The bottom line is that Duke will drop and add player/prospects over the next two weeks so things are very liquid. I will be at Boo Williams in Hampton next week with the Nike kids and Real Deal is going on as well, another event the coaches will cover. This will be the first year coaches are allowed in Hampton and I am expecting a bit of a mess in an already crowded venue. It is clear that the priority is to go hard after Jabari Parker and Julius Randle while keeping Matt Jones in their view. With the Olympics coming up, the Blue Devils will have the max limit of assistants out at all times. Note to premium members – if you are not registered for the premium message board, please do so, then e-mail me at watzonebdp@gmail.com so we can have you approved after checking your paypal payment. [/private]

BDN Monday Musings – Duke Basketball Happenings

Duke is in hot pursuit of Amile Jefferson who will decide in the coming days and the staff will hit the recruiting trail hard starting this week. BDN Photo

It’s been a while since I threw out an edition of Monday Musings so let’s try an abbreviated version to hold you over –

Next stop for Rasheed Sulaimon … Duke University

As you know already we covered the Nike Jordan Brand All Star game this past weekend and Sulaimon showed well for the Dukies earning praise along the way from many recruiting types. Sulaimon will be on the Duke campus in early July which is just over two months away and he will take the time in between to reflect on all that has happened to date and continue his workouts. Having seen Sulaimon play in person over 20 times now, I can tell you that Duke fans will love his ability to play good defense and his first step is as good as it gets. While not a total speed demon, Sulaimon has a way of being all over the place as an active player.

 

We hardly knew you …

Word started to leak out yesterday that Michael Gbinije would transfer and this has long been floating around the rumor mill.  Well, it is all but a formality at this point and we should hear official word from the Duke Sports Information Department any time now.  Gbinije has a history of transferring from schools, several stops in high school and seems to be having trouble finding the right fit.  We wish Gbinije the best and it looks as if he will take a long look at Big East and Virginia are schools.   He is a talented young man and a great student, so he will do well.  Normally, the school handles official announcements but the rush for a scoop caused a lot of  issues.  The sad truth is any kid transferring is not newsworthy enough to have been handled in the way it was and bordered on being meddlesome but that is simply one mans opinion.

 

Amile Jefferson come on down …

Duke still has a shot at Amile Jefferson who is still deciding between several schools making hard, late runs for his services.  I expect we’ll know what the deal is as early as this week.  The general consensus is that he is the last prospect Duke has a shot at in 2012.

Unless ….

Unless, Tony Parker comes around at the midnight hour.  Sources have told Blue Devil Nation that he will make his selection known at his high school on Friday of this week.  Parker was rumored heavily to be UCLA bound this weekend, but he has been the center of many rumors and many national analyst washed their hands with him once he started being all over the place with his comments.  Parker shows little respect for most of the media and is a young kid funning about with the process.  In the end, do not be shocked if he stays in state and goes to Georgia,  His recruitment has frustrated many fans, especially those of Duke for there is a glaring obviousness that he has a spot at Duke where he would play.  I am think the parents who strongly favored Duke will settle for him staying near home.  Parker is a good kid with a nice skill set but looking back on his decision will be interesting.  Who knows, maybe he will have another last minute change of heart but I would not wager the house on it at this point.

Nike EYBL kicks off this week

The Nilke EYBL gets underway at Minneapolis, Minnesota this week and Duke will have a bevy of prospects there.  The coaches will be out in full force this week during an earlier open period than years past.  The bigger names they will watch are Jabari Parker and Julius Randle but several others are on the radar which members of the Blue Devil Nation know about.  For more on the recruiting front, join BDN Premium as we start our unmatched AAU coverage which has now become a site tradition.