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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

“Anything that my kids wanted to talk to him about, a game that they were playing or something that they were doing in school or a TV show that they watched or a video online, he would love to chat about that sort of stuff,” Cannon said. “He was always just a super great friend to my kids and not like a pro basketball player.”

When Cannon was in a serious bike accident during Parker’s senior year and had to have brain surgery, Parker visited him several times in the hospital, bringing the sacrament, the bread and water. Cannon doesn’t remember this – there is a gap of about 10 days in his memory after the accident – but he is proud of his student.

“He does things that I don’t necessarily expect from him or any kid who has the possibilities that he has,” Cannon said. “But I’m always pleased how supportive he is and how much he cares about others.”

OFF THE COURT

Parker tends to be thoughtful, something his high school coach, Robert Smith, noticed right away. It was small things, like staying after varsity games to be the water boy for the sophomore game, or bringing the coach’s wife and daughter small gifts at Christmas his freshman year. As the first freshman to play for Simeon’s varsity team – even the school’s most famous alum, NBA star Derrick Rose, played on the sophomore team – Parker wanted to pay his dues.

“There were times when he was a freshman when he would say, can you be a little bit harder on me than everyone else; I don’t want them to think you gave me anything,” Smith said. “Little things like that.”

Parker grew up around the game – his dad started a youth foundation that included basketball leagues for inner-city kids in Chicago after retiring from the NBA. His mother noticed her son’s extraordinary basketball abilities by the time he was in second grade. When he arrived at Simeon, he was a prodigy.

But he was also a 14-year-old boy.

Early in his freshman season, Parker’s dad picked him up from practice and took him trick-or-treating. During a team camp at Illinois, Smith noticed Parker blowing bubbles in his water.

“I’m looking at him like, he shouldn’t be doing that, but I had to realize that he was only 14,” Smith said. “I had to get some of those things to realize that he was still a kid. You wouldn’t know that when he stepped between these lines, but he still did kid things.

“A lot of these kids have to grow up fast and be so much older, they lose these great days, these childhood days. They lose them because they have to do so much. But he didn’t let that affect him; he was still able to be a child, which was good.”

‘LOW-KEY KID’

Parker still is a kid, according to Jones, his roommate.

“He is very low maintenance,” Jones said. “JP, somebody of Jabari’s stature, you would think that he would want more stuff. But, honestly, he just wants to watch Netflix and be in his room all day.

“He’s probably on the Disney channel,” Jones said. “I just know he’s a big kid. Anything cartoon, Disney-channel affiliated, he’s probably watching it.”

The low-key Parker’s best friend since grade school, Cory Dolins, is a 6-foot, 182-pound sophomore walk-on at DePaul. They met when Parker was in fifth grade, and Dolins in sixth, while playing at Joy of the Game, a gym located in Deerfield, a northern Chicago suburb.

Parker commuted from the South side of the city, while Dolins lived close by. Sometimes Parker would spend the night, and a friendship began, one that would grow stronger despite the fact that they never attended the same schools.

“Personally and socially, he’s been the same,” Dolins said. “Same values. He hasn’t really changed, and that’s always good.”

“We have a lot of similarities that a lot of people don’t see,” Parker said, alluding to their differences (Parker is black, Mormon and from the city; Dolins is white, Jewish and from the suburbs). “We’re both conservative, somebody that wants to give up their time to help others and make other people happy. Yeah, that’s my guy.”

Dolins came to visit Parker at Duke early in the fall, before both of their seasons started in earnest. They hung out, saw a movie. Nothing fancy. Just their style.

“I treat him as another person, as a best friend and not as a basketball player,” Dolins said.

And that’s all Parker wants, just to be Jabari, more than just a basketball player.

“Like my mom told me, people are not going to remember you necessarily for your talent and your skills,” Parker said. “Life moves on. What’s more important is the person that you are, and that’s what sticks into people’s minds.”

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©2014 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at www.newsobserver.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

DUKE

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