Duke phenom Jabari Parker has humble alter ego

By Laura Keeley

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Duke's Jabari Parker (1) defends as Pittsburgh's Michael Young (2) shoots during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Duke won 80-65. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Keith Srakocic, AP

When the best basketball player at Duke isn’t on the court, he likes to be in his dorm room, watching cartoons. He’s had the same best friend since grade school, and the biggest party they ever attended was a Bar Mitzvah. His mom would occasionally take him and his siblings to the thrift store, where they could learn the value of a dollar and develop a personal sense of style.

Jabari Parker, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound son of a former NBA player, isn’t like most people his age – there are only a handful of freshmen being considered for the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft. But he’s not like other young, elite basketball players, either. Those close to him attribute that in part to his Mormon faith, which Parker calls his base and foundation. His parents, Sonny and Lola, stressed to him that to whom much is given, much is required. On the court, he plays like a man among boys. Off the court, his roommate and teammate, Matt Jones, describes him as a big kid.

In interviews, Parker is quick to deflect attention away from himself and toward the team. Many of his closest relationships have nothing to do with basketball, and he puts aside his fame to connect with people. The mix of youth, wisdom and elite basketball gifts make it hard to define Parker.

“I would say I’m definitely not a person that stays complacent,” he said. “I don’t want to say that I’m necessarily a person that is good, but I’m in the midst of trying to be a good person. I have a lot to improve. Obviously, I’m not perfect, but I just try to do my best every day, on the court and off the court, just being a good guy and good teammate.”

Basketball is just part of Parker’s life.

“That is what I do, but that’s not who I am,” he said when asked about basketball. “More importantly, it’s the image and the person that you want people to perceive you as. You deal with basketball only some parts of the day. It’s your job to make yourself noticeable in the right ways.”

This year, Parker has been noticed plenty. That’s not new – as the first freshman to play varsity for Chicago prep powerhouse Simeon Career Academy, Parker has had a high-profile for years. The college basketball world followed along as he scored at least 20 points in his first seven games, then had just seven at Notre Dame. Until a 23-point performance four games later against N.C. State and a double-double at Miami, he hadn’t quite regained the scoring production that seemed to come so naturally during the nonconference schedule.

Parker, who is from the South Side of Chicago, is not surprised by all the media attention. He doesn’t appear to be fazed by it, either. He says it’s about what he expected, as his dad, a former NCAA and NBA player, helped prepare him. So did one of the more famous Duke alums: Grant Hill. The two met over fall break at Duke Elevate, a four-day trip to New York organized by Mike Krzyzewski that mixed a few basketball practices with cultural experiences like seeing a Broadway show and visiting West Point.

“When we met at Duke Elevate, he was telling me how it went down,” Parker said of Hill.

That trip was what he mentioned first when thinking back to favorite memories from his first semester. School has made a big impression on Parker, too.


The ability to keep a low profile on campus, Parker says, was part of Duke’s appeal, part of the reason he’s here instead of the other schools that recruited him. His mom said there is a plan in place for him to graduate, regardless of how long he is actually on campus. But while he is at Duke, Parker feels like he can do something that’s impossible when he’s playing basketball: blend in.

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