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Jabari Parker announces his signing with Duke during a press conference at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, December 20, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
A part of me wished that Jabari Parker had pulled a North Dakota State cap out of his back pocket and put it on his head Thursday. Just knowing that five grown college basketball coaches would be sobbing over their profound loss would have put a skip in my step.
The last 17-year-old to hold so many adults hostage was Justin Bieber. But this is the way of the world now, and on Parker’s big day, the day way too many grown-ups had been waiting breathlessly for, he announced on national TV that he would be attending Duke next year. The only thing missing was Jim Gray.
It’s an excellent choice for the Simeon star, but any of the other caps sitting on a table inside the high school’s gym would’ve been a good fit: Michigan State, Florida, BYU or Stanford.
This was sort of “The Decision, Junior Edition.’’ ESPNU set up shop on the South Side to televise the announcement live, but there was no talking head/master of ceremonies, the way Gray had been for LeBron James when James and his talents bolted for South Beach.
There was only Parker very much on his own, even with a crowd of Simeon kids sitting behind him. Standing at a lectern in front of reporters and cameras for five minutes while waiting to announce your college decision on national TV would be many teenagers’ idea of hell.
“Everybody knows I hate attention,’’ he said afterward.
It would seem like an odd choice then to agree to a televised news conference to reveal a college choice. But, again, if anybody is worthy of a national audience, it would be the kid who, at one time or another, has been rated the No. 1 high school player in the country.
“It wasn’t a choice for me,’’ he said of the live performance. “A lot of people wanted to know, and it would be selfish for me not to. Me being behind closed doors, that would be bad for my fans and a lot of people that want to find out. I had to do it.’’
The decision is behind him, but there’s still a lot on his shoulders. Fans, friends, media and interested observers will expect him to stay one year at Duke, then become an NBA lottery pick. Anything other than that will raise eyebrows, which is as ridiculous as it is true.
“I’ll just go off of how I do,’’ he said of the NBA. “We never know. I may play in college for two or three years. It doesn’t matter to me. I just want the college experience. But the most important thing is getting a degree.’’
For you college hoops traditionalists, his decision to go to Duke might bode well for a second or third year. The death stare of coach Mike Krzyzewski has been known to make a kid stay in school longer than an adviser might suggest.
Despite all the honors that have come Parker’s way, no one can say he’s a sure thing. Too many players have come this far and not lived up to the hype.
He survived the last four years of almost nonstop attention, so he’ll be fine in the spotlight at Duke. His dad, former NBA player Sonny Parker, and his mom, Lola, have done a nice job of raising him. We’ve all heard the stories — up at 5 a.m. for Scripture classes for the devout Mormon — and his rootedness will serve him well for the challenges ahead.
Lola Parker said she wanted the decision to be Jabari’s alone.
“It was hard for Sonny,’’ she said. “I would nudge him or kick him if he started saying something about a program: ‘Oh, this is not a fit for you.’ I would hit him right away, and he would remember that, no, you keep your mouth shut because we don’t want Jabari to be influenced by us.’’
Parker managed to keep the decision-making process under wraps. He said that it wasn’t until 1 p.m. Thursday that he decided on Duke. Sonny Parker said he found out his son was going to be a Blue Devil at the same time the country did. Lola Parker said Jabari had whispered his decision to them as they made their way into the gym.
That’s OK. There should have been some miscommunication, some unevenness to the day. Nothing for a high school kid should be this choreographed, this perfect. Not even for Jabari Parker.