After putting the entire sports media in a frenzy, Jabari Parker, Sports Illustrated cover athlete, and proclaimed by many to be the best high school athlete since LeBron James himself, is headed to Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils.
Many thought that Parker was going to lead DePaul back to relevance, or stop Northwestern from being an NIT regular and finally get them a spot in the Big Dance.
Or maybe even lead Illinois to a national title game, just like Dee Brown did in 2005. A number of parallels have been drawn between Parker and James. Some even went as far as to align Parker’s fate with that of Simeon legend, and state champion Derrick Rose.
But to most college basketball fans in Illinois, he is just another Jon Scheyer. As Grantland’s Robert Mays explains, Scheyer lost to Rose in the state championship game, and would go on to win a national title with – you guessed it – Duke, and of course Rose would play for Memphis, losing to Mario Chalmers’ Kansas Jayhawks in the title game.
Given the history of Simeon’s basketball program, it’s important to note that only three, (yes, three) Simeon graduates have gone on to play in the NBA: Rose, Bobby Simmons, (who, oddly enough, played with DePaul and went to an NCAA tournament in 2000 before being drafted by the Seattle Super Sonics) and Nick Anderson (Who led Illinois to a Final Four in 1989 before he was selected by the Orlando Magic.) And on Illinois’ 2005 Final Four team, only one Simeon alum was on the roster – guard Calvin Brock– (Calvin who?)
With such an intriguing back-story, it’s no surprise the hype was so immense surrounding the press conference last Thursday that the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh called it “The Decision II.” Referring to the spectacle of a nationally televised event in front of nearly 300 reporters, Parker said “I almost have to, it would be selfish for me not to. Me behind closed doors would have been bad for my fans.”
As Haugh observed, the irony of Parker’s self–projected innocence was that it only intensified the limelight shining on him the past two years. In a certain sense, it is deserved.
Everyone wants to know where Parker is headed, not just where he’ll spend his collegiate days, but if he’ll live up to expectations and succeed at the professional level. But let us not forget, he’s still a senior in high school.
After his decision, Parker was bombarded with negative tweets from fans of Stanford, BYU, Florida and Michigan State – all schools he turned down. His tweet in response was honest and mature – something most seventeen year olds on Twitter are not.
But as the post-press conference hysteria dies down, naturally the media will shift focus to one of the Class of 2014’s top recruits, Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor.
The prospect of Okafor teaming up with Parker has left many scouts and college coaches giddy with excitement. The two played together for Team USA the past two summers at the FIBA Under-17 World Championships, and have a friendly rivalry in the Chicago Public League. It appears to be a longshot, but Okafor has already officially visited several schools, including Duke.
One thing is for sure – social media has changed the game of recruiting. What was once a mere chess match where rival schools sought to outbid each other by bribing family members with courtside tickets and fancy merchandise, mixed with impeccable scheduling of games around official visits to ensure that recruits were wowed by the performance the team put on – has become a chance for college basketball powerhouses to flex their muscles.
In light of Parker’s situation, and the fallout of his decision – received so negatively by the majority of his Chicago supporters – the likelihood is that Okafor is going to be in the crosshairs of media attention from now until this point this next year.
Okafor can avoid Parker’s dilemma by refusing to have the same media hype for his declaration. If he tries to one–up his friend, it will not end well for him. The Chicago press will eat him up, as they did to Parker. As David Haugh quipped: “This was reality TV meets Chicago Public League, good intentions gone bad.” Less melodrama and more humility will serve Jahilil Okafor well. College basketball will not benefit from these theatrics.As LeBron James found out in his first year with his new team, actions speak louder than nationally televised words.