Over the years, the state of Illinois has produced a Who’s Who of great basketball talent.
Chicago Simeon forward Jabari Parker will play his first game in the United Center.
The names just come one after another – Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett, Mark Aguirre, Antoine Walker, Evan Turner, Anthony Davis and so many others.
The next guy who could put himself on such a list is Chicago Simeon forward Jabari Parker, who will be center stage tonight at the Madhouse on Madison (aka the United Center or The House That MJ Built) for the McDonald’s All-American Game. (The game, set for a 9:30 p.m. Eastern tip, will be televised by ESPN.)
As the only player in the boys game from the state of Illinois, Parker will be the de facto host. He has enjoyed himself during the McDonald’s game activities this week.
“It’s just been a blessing,” said Parker, who committed to Duke on Dec. 20. “My whole high school career, I’ve been looking up and expecting to play in this game. I just want to play in front of my family and my home crowd. It’s my first time to play at the United Center. I’m used to watching games there and now I’ll be there on the court.”
The 6-8, 240-pound Parker was rated as the nation’s No. 1 prospect for 2013 early in the process before a foot injury sent him to the sideline last summer. He bounced back from that injury this winter – just in time to win Illinois’ Mr. Basketball award for the second year in a row and lead Simeon to a fourth straight state championship.
During the course of the McDonald’s game, Parker will receive the prestigious Morgan Wootten national player of the year award. As a junior, Parker was tapped as the Team USA basketball 2011 Male Athlete of the Year and the Gatorade national player of the year. He was just the fourth non-senior to win the Gatorade award as an underclassman, following LeBron James, Greg Oden and Brandon Knight.
He suffered a toe injury last summer during practice for the USA Basketball Under-17 team. He then suffered a broken left foot during the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championships. That put him on the shelf for the end of the AAU season with the Mac Irvin Fire and for much of the fall. He gained 35 pounds during the layoff, compounding his return even more.
Parker eased back into action and seemed to be back at full strength as Simeon knocked off renowned Oak Hill (Va.) Academy 81-68 on Jan. 21. Parker had 28 points and five rebounds in that win.
Parker at his signing ceremony for Duke
His Simeon team moved into the postseason and ultimately avenged a regular season loss to Chicago Whitney Young (and top 2014 prospect and Parker’s Mac Irvin Fire teammate Jahlil Okafor). Parker had 29 points and 13 rebounds in that 69-51 win.
“There is always a lot of competition here in Chicago,” Parker said of his team’s tough challenges. “It pushes you higher.”
Parker then had 23 points in a win over New Trier, 20 in a state semifinal win over Proviso East and capped it with 20 points and eight rebounds in the Illinois Class 4A state title game win over Stevenson (58-40). As a senior, Parker averaged 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He averaged 21.7 points during the team's seven-game playoff run.
Parker is used to the spotlight. He was featured on the cover of the May 21, 2012, edition of Sports Illustrated with the headline “The Best High School Basketball Player Since LeBron James Is … Jabari Parker; But There’s Something More Important To Him Than NBA Stardom: His Faith.”
The article discussed how Parker was raised as a Mormon. His father, Sonny, is a former NBA player. His wife, Lola, is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accordingly, Parker visited Brigham Young and considered signing to play there. But, ultimately, he chose Duke over the likes of BYU, Michigan State, Stanford and Florida.
Parker had built a great rapport with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski as well as assistant Chris Collins, although Collins was introduced Tuesday as the new head coach at Northwestern – coincidentally a Chicagoland school. (Duke fans need not worry, though: Parker still figures to sign with Duke when the late signing period starts April 26.)
Asked why he picked Duke, Parker said, "Of course, the history. Duke is going to always be a team in the tournament. Most importantly the long-term investment. I can get a degree and it's not too far from home ... And it's Coach K, that's one of the best coaches ever and I wanted to experience the things he has for us next year.”
There has been debate that Parker could be a one-and-done player.
Parker was a star on the AAU circuit for the Mac Irvin Fire
"I may play in college for two or three years,” he said. “It doesn't matter to me. I want to go to school. That's important to me. I just want to go to school.
“I want to have some years in college. But I don't know what the circumstances are going to be.
Parker is rated anywhere from second to sixth in the various recruiting rankings. He checks in at No. 6 on the 247Sports.com list and No. 3 on the 247 Composite rankings. He has watched as Canadian wing Andrew Wiggins and Texas power forward Julius Randle, among others, have moved past him.
Speaking this week in Chicago, Parker said he wasn’t deterred by those rankings.
“He can take it,” Parker said of Wiggins. “He can have the ranking. It’s basketball. I want to have fun and go out and play for the love of the game.”
By all accounts, Parker has been impressive during the McDonald’s game practices this week. His coach for the West squad has been impressed.
“Jabari is the most complete player on my team,” West coach Mike Flaherty told the Chicago Sun-Times. “You look at all the other kids and you see there is one area where they are going to have to improve.”
The McDonald’s game is the start of what will be a busy month for Parker. He will also play in the Jordan Brand Classic April 13 and the Nike Hoop Summit April 20. He will graduate from Simeon in June and could play for the USA Under-19 team in its World Championships in late June before enrolling at Duke.
The Scouts’ Take
Duke’s season came to an unceremonious end with Sunday’s lopsided loss to Louisville in the NCAA Midwest Region championship game. Krzyzewski loses three starters off that 30-6 team with shooting guard Seth Curry and forwards Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee departing.
Point guard Quinn Cook and wing Rasheed Sulaimon return as do top reserves Tyler Thornton in the backcourt and wings Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston. Duke also will have Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood available on the wing as well in 2013-14.
Parker headlines a three-man Duke signing class, which also includes 6-7 wing Semi Ojeleye (ranked 22nd nationally by 247Sports.com) and 6-4 shooting guard Matt Jones (ranked 53rd).
We asked a couple of top recruiting analysts how they see Parker fitting in at Duke – and perhaps at the next level above that.
“He may play some at the three, but I see him sort of doing what Ryan Kelly did for them,” said 247Sports.com national basketball recruiting editor Jerry Meyer. “My guess is he would play a lot at the four for them. Duke runs a four-out, one-in approach. He will primarily be on the perimeter and there will be a lot of pick-and-roll. But he’ll also do some curl cutting off screens.
“He’s not the shooter Ryan Kelly has been, but he is a playmaker. He is a good shooter.”
Chris Johnson, who tracks the Midwest for The Hoop Scoop, has watched Parker grow and develop from his eighth grade year on.
“I think it’s premature to say he will be a one-and-done player and off to the NBA next year,” Johnson said. “He has the skill level and the bloodlines with his dad being a former NBA player.
“He was well coached in high school and has his USA Basketball experience as well. I think he has the potential to be an impact player at Duke this year.”
As for where Parker will play at Duke, Johnson said, “I think he has the skill and basketball IQ to play multiple positions. The three would ideally be his position.
“The main thing with him would be the health concerns coming off the foot injury. If everything there checks out, he should be an impact guy as a freshman.”
Likewise, Meyer is interested to see how Parker responds against the nation’s top talent – beginning with tonight’s McDonald’s game.
“It will be an interesting test case,” Meyer said. “We will really find out whether Jabari is back to 100 percent. It sounds like he is getting there. There are some really good players in that game with a lot of pride and ego.”