The anticipation is over. Jabari Parker, the top high school basketball player in the country, is headed to Duke. This afternoon he made it official in a nationally televised press conference held at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, bringing an end to an unprecedented recruiting process that began over three years ago.
BYU fans will no doubt be disappointed. So will the folks at Florida, Michigan State and Stanford. But nobody should be surprised. The top recruit wants to play for the top coach. Many consider Mike Krzyzewski to be second only to the late John Wooden on the short list of all-time greatest college coaches. Krzyzewski also coaches the U.S. Olympic team. Olympians LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have both said that if they had gone to college they would have gone to Duke. That says a lot.
From a basketball standpoint, Jabari Parker and Mike Krzyzewski are a match made in hoops heaven. But their relationship already runs deeper than the hardwood. For starters, Krzyzewski understands and respects Jabari’s faith. Jabari will not be the first Mormon to play for Duke. More importantly, Krzyzewski has a philosophy and lifestyle that is ideally tailored to accommodate Jabari’s personal goals and priorities.
I first met Coach K when I was a film coach for Northeastern University in 1992. We played at Duke that year. The Blue Devils had Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. We lost — big. But I met a man who was so much more than a basketball coach. He genuinely stresses academic excellence, holds his players to the highest standards and prepares young men to be successful long after their playing days are over.
Coach Krzyzewski and I also have the same book editor. Through that connection I know what kind of father and husband he is. I’ll put it this way. Jabari could not be in better hands.
At the same time, Krzyzewski is getting a future lottery pick whose hallmark is humility. Jabari and I practice the same faith. I know him and his family in ways that I seldom get to know the people I write about. His character is far more compelling than his game.
Earlier this year I wrote the Sports Illustrated cover story on Jabari. Since then I’ve watched him go through the decision-making process for choosing a school. The pressure and expectations have been extraordinary. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Jabari Parker is a 17-year-old high school student. He’s a teenager.
Yet the poise and wisdom he has shown throughout this process would make any parent proud. Any of the other schools on Jabari’s list — Michigan State, Florida, BYU and Stanford — would have been a good choice. But in Duke he made the best choice.
Jeff Benedict is considered one of America’s top nonfiction writers. He is a special features contributor for Sports Illustrated, a columnist for SI.com and the author of 10 critically acclaimed books.
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