Jabari Parker steps into spotlight

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
1:15
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Jabari ParkerMark L. Baer/US PresswireJabari Parker (left) will hit newsstands soon, as he graces the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Most every college hoops fan already knows about Jabari Parker, the No. 1-ranked player in the class of 2013.

We are not strangers to his story: He is nearing the end of his junior year at Simeon High School in Chicago, Ill., the alma mater of Derrick Rose and plenty of other sought-after prep talents. He is 6-foot-9 (and possibly still growing) with nearly unlimited skills -- passing, ballhandling, mid-range shooting, interior strength -- and he comes across as more well-grounded and unselfish than your average highly ranked recruit. His father, Sonny, played for Texas A&M and the Golden State Warriors; his mother, Lola, was born a Mormon in her native country of Tonga. Parker shares his mother's faith; as Seth Davis wrote last summer, Mormonism is a bedrock of the recruit's worldview.

But college basketball fans are more familiar than most with players like Parker. Fans of his potential college choices -- which run the gamut from DePaul and Northwestern to Kansas and Kentucky -- have tracked his prep career and analyzed his every utterance for hints of his future choice.

Parker is about to gain a whole new audience. Why? Because this week, he graces the cover of Sports Illustrated, just the latest prep phenom in the post-LeBron James era to do so. But Parker's cover, as you can see here (hat tip: NBC) comes with a twist: A subhead that reads "The Best High School Basketball Player Since LeBron James Is ... Jabari Parker."

Now that's pressure. It is also arguable, given the talent that has come through the ranks -- Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and on down the line -- since James became a national sports celebrity at St. Vincent's-St. Mary's back in 2002. Having seen Parker play a few times, it's safe to say he lacks the dominant aura James had then, and maintains to this day. When you watched LeBron, you knew you were watching a transcendant player. When you watch Parker, you are sure you're watching a very, very good one. But the visceral feeling stops there.

In any case, that comparison is a lot of pressure for a high school kid. How will Parker handle it? We'll see. But if the first three years of his burst onto the recruiting scene -- where he has been the second coming since he was 14, and maybe earlier -- are any indication, he will handle it with grace borne of belief that basketball is only one item on a long list of personal priorities.

Parker is about to make The Leap. If I had to take a guess, the kid will be just fine.

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