Where will Jabari Parker play college basketball?
If you like to debate such matters around the water cooler, it will be close to home, likely Michigan State.
Parker, considered by many to be the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit, has said Duke, BYU, Michigan State, Florida and Stanford are his top choices. On Tuesday, Parker told reporters he’d announce his decision the afternoon of Dec. 20, at his school, Simeon (Chicago) Career Academy.
In case you’ve been in a cave and don’t know who Parker is, he is an LDS superstar, half black, half Tongan and a Sports Illustrated coverboy. He is considered the most-talked about and publicized high school player in the history of storied Chicago prep basketball. A May 2012 Sports Illustrated cover story declared Parker the best high school player since LeBron James, but that distinction is debated by others, including Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News and Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports.
Of Parker, NBA veteran John Lucas told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2011: “He is a top-5 player in the nation regardless of class. He is a Magic Johnson type of player because of the impact he has on the game from multiple positions. He is a triple-double threat.”
Parker draws huge interest in Utah because he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU is among his top choices. He made his official campus visit to Provo during Thanksgiving weekend. His mother, Lola, is a former BYU student and served a mission for the LDS Church before marrying Sonny Parker, a first-round NBA draft pick of the Golden State Warriors in 1976.
But back to where Parker will go.
Most top LDS athletes recruited and offered by BYU usually accept that offer early and make an announcement. This has not been the case with Parker, which leads many recruiting experts who’ve monitored Cougar recruits to ascertain that if he was going to be a Cougar, he’d have sealed the deal by now.
More likely, Parker is headed to Duke or Michigan State. His father Sonny, who told reporters he did not know, said those are his likely picks with Florida as a dark horse.
Part of that statement strikes true when you consider the history of where Chicago’s pedigree of outstanding high school basketball players have gone to college. That city is like a Who’s Who of college and NBA basketball. Generally, these stars have stayed close to home. None have come west. None have gone to Duke. None have played in the storied ACC or bought into that Tobacco Road hype.
Meanwhile, Michigan State is 218 miles from Chicago down I-95, a three-hour drive from Parker’s neighborhood, give or take. That’s like friends and family going from Provo to Cedar City (209 miles) to watch a game.
Chicago’s basketball talent is centered in some of the same high schools, powerhouses, if you will. Parker’s Simeon Career Academy is at the top of that list and has won more state titles than any school in Illinois (six). Parker is playing in the shadow of Simeon legend Derrick Rose, who signed with Memphis.
But look at Chicago’s other top prep superstars and where they went.
Cazzie Russell (Carver High) went to nearby Michigan as did Juwan Howard (Chicago Vocational Academy).
The farthest west any of these stud players have gone is UTEP (Carver’s Tim Hardaway) and Wisconsin (Proviso East’s Michael Finley).
Coincidentally, Proviso East is the Chicago team ranked No. 13 nationally by MaxPreps.com that Lone Peak High ran off the court, 84-46, two weeks ago.
When it came time for Glenn “Doc” Rivers (Proviso East), to sign, he chose to stay right at home and played at Marquette. This was the same decision made by Dwyane Wade, who played high school ball at Harold Richards in Oak Lawn.
Keeping it right at home was the college decision of DePaul superstars Terry Cummings (Carver), Mark Aguirre (George Westinghouse College Prep) and Quentin Richardson.
Isiah Thomas decided to leave St. Joseph’s of Westchester, and he took his considerable talents to the University of Indiana, a breezy drive down the freeway from Chicago.
Most recently, when Anthony Davis from Perspectives Charter School in Chicago decided to do a one-and-done before going to the NBA, he chose Kentucky, an SEC team.
Of course, there have been hundreds of talented players from Chicago that have ended up at schools from Wyoming to New Mexico, the Pac-12 and Big 12. But for the purposes of this commentary, we’re talking the elite of the elite.
Parker and 6-foot-10 Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young Magnet High), a 2014 recruit, are undergoing extensive scrutiny in Chicago. Two of Parker’s teammates, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, have chosen to play for the University of Illinois. This is where Marcus Liberty from Crane High School and King College prep signed before his career as a Nugget and Piston in the NBA.
It seems, in Chicago, the very best of the best don’t stray too far from home. There is a culture there that keeps them hooked up with coaches, trainers, friends, family and familiar surroundings. It’s kind of a comfort zone.
While any superstar can find his way to an All-America list or an NBA career from just about anywhere in this day and age, the Chicago scene remains a kind of predictable machinery.
So, if you take the cream of the crop from Chicago, the Windy City’s super elite, the legends of the game, the tea leaves say they will stay close to home, not go west, and stay out of the ACC.
Is it written in stone? Absolutely not.
But it is History 101 of Chicago basketball. These guys, influenced by a local culture, stay in Big Ten and Big East territory.
Is this a prediction? No. Just a fact.
Odds are, Parker will go to Michigan State.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].