by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
Jabari Parker chose Duke, but that’s not the story
The story is how he did it, and why that makes him one of the most interesting players to come out of high school in a long time.
First and foremost, let it be known that Parker had his heart set on Michigan State, not Duke, for a very long time.
“I wanted to go there since my sophomore year,” he said.
Now consider that while he praised Duke for its education and history of success, he also indirectly and directly threw some jabs in its direction.
Parker singled out Florida’s Billy Donovan and Rashon Burno as his two favorite coaches during recruiting.
And his least favorite recruiting visit? That was his trip to Duke.
“To tell you the truth, that was probably the worst on-campus visit I had because I didn’t do what I wanted to do, and that’s being a kid,” Parker said. “I know being in college is all business, and that’s what they wanted to show me.”
The reason that Parker did choose Duke seemed to have less than to do with anything the Blue Devils did and more with Branden Dawson being on Michigan State’s roster.
“It was the main reason why I didn’t pick them today,” Parker said. “I didn’t want to mess up his thing. He’s been there two years, so me coming in there would be disrespectful to him and the program. I just want him to do well. He’s a local kid from Gary, Ind.”
While those statements appear as selfless as an athlete can get and an oddity in this era, it also places a huge target on Dawson’s back from Spartans fans, as he has been singled out as the reason why Michigan State did not land the elite prospect.
That’s a lot of pressure for a sophomore averaging 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game after suffering a torn ACL last season.
The entire setting of the announcement was a tad different too. The normal elements were there, as it featured a packed gym, ESPNU and five hats of schools he was considering.
But let’s stick with those hats for a second because one was missing. There was Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Stanford and BYU. But a top-five player without a Kentucky hat sitting at the table? That’s blasphemy in this era.
When asked why Kentucky wasn’t in the mix, his father, Sonny, stressed comfort.
“He has to feel comfortable with the type of program and school overall,” he said.
At about 3:15 p.m. local time, the gym at Simeon hushed and Parker emerged. Dressed sharply, he had on a blue and white striped shirt and skinny maroon tie.
He got through the ESPNU interview as comfortably as a high school kid could. He had to be instructed where to look and tried to think quickly on his feet for each question. He announced it was Duke by taking a Blue Devils shirt out of a backpack and showing it to the camera.
But when the formal portion was over, Parker loosened up and said whatever was on his mind. It was a quality he doesn’t seem to be losing anytime soon.
One of the first things he mentioned was his distaste for press conferences like these.
“Everybody knows I hate this,” Parker said. “It wasn’t a choice for me. A lot of people wanted to know, and it would be selfish for me not to.”
He said he chose Duke over Michigan State and Florida about two hours before the press conference and told his godfather, who lives in California. His parents didn’t even know until he said it in the gym.
At least that’s what he told the gym, considering there was a “behind the scenes look” at why he chose Duke on Sports Illustrated’s website just minutes after the announcement.
Also unclear is how long he will be at Duke. The Chicago product and his father said he would get a degree and could possibly be more than a one-and-done.
“I may play in college for two or three years,” Parker said. “I want the college experience.
Parker, a Mormon, also said he had not decided yet if he would at some point take a year off for his mission.
So to recap, today or maybe not today Parker chose the school he took his worst visit to because it didn’t have Dawson and announced it a press conference he didn’t want to have. And in two years, he might be at Duke, the NBA or on a Mormon mission.
Ladies and gentleman, Jabari Parker.