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Simeon senior Jabari Parker never dreamed he’d be recognized as one of the best high school basketball players in the country.
At a young age, he was discouraged because of his weight and how much bigger he was than most kids. Parker and his father, Sonny, would stay in the gym for hours and work on a variety of drills from foot-work to ball-handling to conditioning.
The hard work has handsomely paid off. Parker has grown into his 6-9 frame and accomplished more over the past four years than any other player in the country. He was even named the national Gatorade Player of the year as a junior.
At the start of this season, Parker sat out with a foot injury. There wasn’t much he could do but watch his teammates struggle without him.
After returning, he had a difficult time getting back into the groove of the game, lacking energy and confidence from being out of shape. But he knew it was better to start off slow and finish strong when it mattered.
“It made us stronger mentally and even made us hungrier,’’ said Parker, who’s playing his best ball of the season. ‘‘That’s why we are [in the Class 4A state semifinals] right now.’’
Parker practices what he preaches and his biggest inspiration besides his father is his religion.
“My beliefs and practices is what keeps me grounded,’’ Parker said. ‘‘I think [Jesus] is the pinnacle of what a guy can be as far as sacrifice and being dedicated to the people. That’s exactly what I try and implement with my teammates and the people around me.’’
One would think that the constant media attention, praise and scrutiny would get to Parker’s head and take a toll on him. But it hasn’t.
As he and his teammates chase a historic fourth consecutive state title this weekend in Peoria, Parker is looking at a bigger picture.
“It will be a huge accomplishment to win,’’ Parker said. ‘‘We want to do it for the community and the South side because the win illuminates the city and takes away from the negatives. I want to make things positive using sports.”