(AP) — Jabari Parker still had just about everyone guessing. Then, he pulled out that blue T-shirt with a white “D,” and, finally, it became clear.
The prized prospect from Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, one of the most highly touted recruits in years, is headed to Duke to play for Mike Krzyzewski. Parker made the announcement in front of a national TV audience Thursday, in his high school gym, surely delighting Blue Devils fans.
A 6-foot-8 forward with the ability to nail jumpers from just about any spot when he’s not throwing down vicious dunks, Parker can’t sign his letter of intent until April 17. But he made his intentions clear with one highly anticipated oral commitment.
Michigan State, Florida, Stanford and Brigham Young also made his top five and caps from each school lined a table next to the podium. But he said it really came down to three schools, with the Gators and Spartans right there with the Blue Devils.
In the end, he chose to play for Krzyzewski for at least a year before making what many believe will ultimately be a jump to the NBA.
“Duke is always going to be a team in the tournament,” he said. “You can’t go wrong at the program and most importantly, the long-term investment. I feel like if I go there, I can get a good degree. I can also stay close to home where it’s easily accessible to my parents, my family. It’s not too far away. Coach K, that’s one of the best coaches ever, and I wanted to be able to experience the things that he has next year.”
Parker said he might play two or three seasons in college. Either way, he vowed to get a degree. He also said he didn’t decide on a school until about 1 p.m. Central, and he apparently kept his parents in the dark until just before he made his announcement.
His mom Lola said Jabari whispered his decision to her and her husband, Sonny, as they were walking into the gym. A few minutes later, he pulled out that Duke T-shirt, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd packing the bleachers behind the podium.
Parker committed to join a program next season will lose two key frontcourt players — seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly — from a team that earlier this week rose to No. 1 for the first time since February 2011.
Parker figures to fit right in on a talented group of players that will include Quinn Cook, who’s expected to be in his second year as the starting point guard, and returns pure shooter Andre Dawkins, who’s expected back after redshirting this season.
Turning down the other programs, particularly Michigan State, wasn’t easy, particularly after coach Tom Izzo’s final pitch Wednesday.
Simeon coach Robert Smith was so impressed he said, “If he was recruiting me yesterday, I would have committed.”
Parker didn’t. He saw a potential for controversy with him and the Spartans’ Branden Dawson playing the same position. Instead, he’s headed to Duke even though he said that was his “worst” on-campus visit.
“I didn’t do what I wanted to do — that’s be a kid,” he said. “But I know being at college, it’s all business. That’s what they wanted to do, to show me. I know I didn’t have a good time, but they just wanted to tell me, prepare for me and give me a little bit of a taste of how it’s going to be in college.”
Lola Parker said she was more interested in Krzyzewski the person than the Krzyzewski the coaching icon. She mentioned his character, his discipline and his final home visit on Tuesday.
“The first time Coach K came in, he stood up and showed Jabari where his foot should be on an offensive or a defensive play,” she said. “He showed Jabari where his arms should be. This guy doesn’t sit down. We kind of laughed about it, and it was the same thing Tuesday. I moved my coffee table to the side to make sure he had room right there to get up.”
Given Jabari Parker’s skills, it’s easy to see why just about every major program was interested in him.
Parker just might be the greatest prospect to come out of Simeon, and that’s saying something considering Derrick Rose played there. All he did was go on to become the MVP with the hometown Bulls.
As for Parker, his credentials to this point sure are impressive.
He received the Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year award after leading Simeon to its third straight state championship while averaging 19.5 points and 8.9 rebounds as a junior.
His father played six seasons with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA after starring at Chicago’s Farragut Career Academy.
“He has a gift and he has what’s called ‘It’,” Sonny Parker said.
Religion also plays a big role in Jabari’s life. He is a devout Mormon, just like his mom, and he has talked about going on a mission. He’s not sure if he will do that, but he did make one thing clear:
He plans to get his degree.
Now that he’s made his college choice and assuming he doesn’t have a change of heart, Jabari can focus on leading Simeon to another state title and getting his conditioning back after being slowed by a broken right foot.
The injury over the summer caused him to push back some recruiting trips and delay his decision rather than commit during the early signing period last month. He’s also missed a game this week because he’s trying to work his way back from the injury, an obstacle for a player rarely stopped on the court, but this moment was years in the making.
Lola Parker recalled in an interview at the family’s house earlier this year that she could see it when Jabari, the youngest of seven children, was in the second grade going against the fourth and fifth-graders in a league run by Sonny, who established a foundation to help inner-city youth in Chicago after he retired.
Scholarship offers started rolling in when Jabari was in the sixth grade, and now, it’s not uncommon for him to get mobbed by fans at games, even though they’re often not from Simeon.
Usually, he’ll accommodate them, but sometimes, he needs an escape.
He finds one in religion. That means rising several days a week at 5 a.m. for Bible study and heading from the family’s brick bungalow on the city’s South Side to worship a few miles away, near the University of Chicago.
The day of the interview at the house earlier this year, there was a reminder on Jabari’s door to “put the Lord first” along with several sheets of 8-by-10 white paper. One listed the Ten Commandments, the other personal rules such as “don’t be quick to judge” and “Think positive things.”
For now, big things are happening for Parker. He’s headed to a storied program. And then?
“His potential, the sky’s the limit,” Sonny Parker said.