Dick Harmon: Trying to woo high school basketball sensation Jabari Parker, BYU fans get creative
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
BYU fans tried to outdo their counterparts at Duke in the campaign to woo Chicago prep sensation Jabari Parker Saturday night in the Marriott Center where the Cougars won a non-conference game against Cal State-Northridge.
Did it work? Did BYU give Duke's Cameron Crazies a run in the displaying-love department?
Well, Parker watchers will have to wait a few weeks or a month or so when Parker, considered by many recruiting experts to be the No. 1 high school basketball player in the country, makes his decision. Parker has narrowed his choices to Duke, BYU, Michigan State, Stanford and Florida.
The fact that Parker is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints intensified things this weekend in Provo when he made his official recruiting trip on campus.
Crazy? BYU fans?
They stepped on the plank and tried to walk off the edge, but that's tough to do when sober. But it was a sellout, 20,900 fans, leaving Parker surrounded by thousands of members of his faith.
BYU banked on the idea that the mutual cultural and religious heritage, family ties and familiarity with those linked by his faith would score points.
Bless their hearts, Cougar fans tried all this during a holiday weekend with accompanying carb coma from Thanksgiving, no pep band, and many students out of town.
BYU officials were careful to prevent any possible recruiting infractions. That included sending a memo to reporters citing an NCAA rule that prohibits recruits from mixing with media on campus visits.
When Parker arrived in the Marriott Center, part of his 48-hour official visit to BYU, he met a sea of fans wearing "Chicago to Provo" shirts, a month-long project organized by BYU fans Greg Welch and Tony Brown. Using the Internet and social media, they raised money to buy 6,300 T-shirts and hand them out from a truck on private property north of the Marriott Center.
They vetted the project through NCAA and BYU compliance officials since using Parker's name or image on campus is a violation. Private displays are another matter.
On his way to Provo, Parker passed a video board on University Parkway on the offices of Dexter and Dexter Law, across from University Mall. It projected Parker's face with the words, "Welcome Jabari Parker."
The national anthem was sung by Natalia Wolfgramm, a member of the singing group The Jets, who like Parker, has Tongan roots.
A group of BYU fans created a parody video of PSY's "Gangnam Style" in hopes of getting Parker's attention.
Other efforts to welcome Parker, or take advantage of his popularity, failed.
On Parker's trip to Stanford earlier this fall, a local LDS stake staged a fireside where Parker and his family were guest speakers. A similar fireside was planned at an LDS building near the University of Utah campus, but it was scrubbed last week by organizers, citing unexplained issues.
On a cold Saturday morning four of what turned out to be shifts of 20 BYU fans toiled hard to construct Parker's name out of double-wide and taped butcher paper, each letter 200 feet long. They laid out the letters in the LaVell Edwards Stadium Parking lot, then transported them to the foothills where the giant Y is painted on rocks on the mountain east of Provo. They toted the letters up the mountain and began placing them ostensibly so Parker could see the gesture.
"We underestimated the task. It proved too much," said Nephi Henry, one of the organizers. By mid-afternoon, BYU security police arrived at the scene with an order to cease and desist, saying if the group cleaned up the paper and took it down the mountain, no one would be charged for defacing, littering and trespassing — but that a report would be filed.
"We did our best. Other than getting a beautiful day and a lot of work, I guess we made the police beat blotter," said Henry. It took 10 hours of his Saturday not to mention days of preparation and organizing efforts.
"Hopefully Jabari saw some of this," he said.
Parker had a front-row seat with his mother, brother Chris and cousin Harvey Unga, BYU's all-time leading rusher. Nearby were BYU commits Nick Emery, T.J. Haws and Eric Mika from Lone Peak High and Orem High's Dalton Nixon.
BYU's fans got into this game, but it took a late rally and 32 points by Tyler Haws to secure victory. If the truth be known, all plans aside, the Marriott Center could have used some of the organized craziness and passion you see from students in the Spectrum at Utah State.
Marriott Center Parker signs included: "Come to Zion," something that announced there were 15,994 Mormon Girls at BYU vs. 15 at Duke, "BYU (heart) Jabari," and "Be our Legend."
The shirt gimmick made ESPN.com and may have been the best BYU fan effort.
William Sell, a 19-year-old student from Pennsylvania, said he read about the shirts on ESPN and decided he'd partake. "I really hope Jabari makes the correct decision. I'm really excited and hope BYU puts on a good show.' "
Kent Belcher, 71, of Springville, and his wife Jann knew nothing of the shirt plan until they got to the arena. "It was a nice surprise," said Jenn.
"I hope Jabari liked his visit and knows he's welcome here. We'd love to have him and these shirts show what we want to happen," said Kent.
Will it work?
"Yes," said Belcher. "You have to stay positive."
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