Jeff Benedict: SI writer sheds light on Jabari Parker's Mormon faith and bond with Coach K in a Deseret News Exclusive
“I don’t emphasize my religion,” Parker said. “The truth is I’m not really different from my teammates. I just try to be a good person and they love me for who I am.”
It’s an approach that has earned Coach K’s respect. “Jabari doesn’t publicize his faith,” Krzyzewski said. “He doesn’t throw it in your face. He just lives his religion by example. His family is the same way. Those are strong people.”
I didn’t know Krzyzewski when this project began. But I consider him a friend now. Some of my most enjoyable moments were in his office discussing things other than basketball — his Polish Catholic roots; his family; and the lessons he learned as a cadet at West Point.
“If it was up to me I wouldn’t have chosen West Point because I was afraid of it,” Krzyzewski told me.
But he didn’t have a choice. His mother was a cleaning lady; his father an elevator operator. Neither of them graduated from high school. They were first-generation descendants of Polish immigrants. “My parents didn’t understand West Point,” Krzyzewski said. “But they understood ‘Presidents have gone there. And my son can go there?’ It was a no-brainer for them.”
The Academy pushed Krzyzewski out of his comfort zone. He had to learn to swim; to tie a knot; to put up a tent; to march in formation; and to absorb intense yelling and strict commands.
“I wanted to quit,” he said. “But I was brought up to never quit. My experience at West Point made me who I am. I had to learn to do things I would never choose to do.”
In a similar sense, Krzyzewski has spent the past six months taking Parker out of his comfort zone and pushing him harder than he’s ever been pushed. He’s taught Parker the importance of relentless preparation, conditioning and precision. He's taught him to be a professional.
“I came to Duke to be pushed,” Parker said. “I wanted to experience the pressure and the challenge of playing here. Under Coach K, I have developed maturity on and off the court.”
At the same time, Parker and Krzyzewski have developed a relationship that runs deeper than coach and player.
“I love Jabari,” Krzyzewski said. “In some respects I wonder who he would be if he wasn’t a basketball player. He is a beautiful kid and unbelievably humane. He doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body.”
Read the Sports Illustrated cover story: The education of Jabari Parker
Jeff Benedict is a special features writer for Sports Illustrated and the co-author of the New York Times bestseller The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. His website is www.jeffbenedict.com
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