NEW YORK -- New Yorkers love a good show, and the marquee at venerable Madison Square Garden promised a good one Thursday -- Duke versus UCLA, two basketball names that even the casual fan would recognize.
New Yorkers, though, aren’t easily impressed, and names alone aren’t enough to lure them into the seats on a December night.
No, the main attraction was the new college basketball sensation, the one who has all the skills and all the promise of the Garden’s usual superstar, Carmelo Anthony.
Jabari Parker is the draw here, there and everywhere he goes. He is a one-man barnstorming show, a player who somehow even manages to transcend the attraction that is Duke basketball.
They were all there to see him -- 15,410 fans, the 45 NBA scouts, Tyson Chandler and Tim Hardaway, Jr., even the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who sat at center court alongside his daughter, Jessica, who is a Duke senior.
Everyone wanted a glimpse of Parker, save maybe the guy carrying around a teacup dog in a sweater and the rest of his displaced West Coast brethren.
“He is not afraid of the moment,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Indeed, Parker, who somehow was gifted the unusual genetic cocktail of extraordinary talent without even a dose of arrogance, has been that rarest of athletes, of stars in general, and a person who actually lives up to his hype.
Every single night.
By now Tibetan monks know that this is the Year of the Freshmen, and when they play, we must critique, fawn and debate.
There is little to critique and less to debate about Parker.
The fawning, however, continues.
In Duke’s 80-63 win over UCLA, he had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. He hit 7 of 13 of his shots from the floor, 4 of 8 from behind the arc, and all five of his free throws.
The only thing he didn’t do, people even tried to credit him for. At the end of the game, it looked like he met freakishly athletic Zach LaVine at the rim to block a dunk.
But, of course, Parker came clean.
“No, no, not even close,” he said. “It just rimmed out.”
Parker now has nine games of 20-plus points. He’s played just 11 overall. On his "off" nights, he had 19 (against Arizona) and 15 (against Michigan).
“I know we’re in New York, but he has a lot of Melo in him,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “He’s very, very talented. You don’t see a lot of guys like him, playing like this 10 or 11 games into their freshmen year.”
Parker was asked about the Anthony comparison after the game and he didn’t deny it. But his answer was a nice peek into the quality of Parker as both a player and a person.
“He’s always about his fundamentals,” Parker said. “He’s someone who constantly works on his craft.”
This is a kid who, at 18, is better than many will be before they retire, yet only worries about getting better. He didn’t care about the scouts, he said. Didn’t care about the fans, though he did like the extremely pro-Duke crowd.
He just cared about playing his role and getting better on this Thursday night than he was a week ago.
“He loves to play,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a natural. In different sports there are people who are natural, and he’s a natural but he always wants to learn.”
Perhaps most astounding is that Parker can be so singularly good without being overbearing. He is not a one-man wrecking crew, nor does he have to be.
Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook each had 14 against UCLA, and even better for the Blue Devils, Rasheed Sulaimon emerged from hibernation. The slumping, dog-house-dwelling guard scored eight and gave out four assists in 18 minutes, the most he’s seen since a DNP against Michigan.
And unlike Anthony, Parker has a good coach.
Krzyzewski won this game as much as his players, tweaking both his offense and defense at halftime to turn what had been a bucket-for-bucket track meet into a Duke walkover. The Blue Devils used Amile Jefferson at the high post to get easy, open looks and then took away the Bruins’ transition buckets, slowing down their pace and taking them out of their rhythm.
“We can get better obviously, but tonight was really good,” Krzyzewski said. “The second half was really good basketball by us.”
The whole game was really good basketball by Parker.
It’s what everyone came to see -- and they got what they paid for.
The scouts, the fans and even the Boss enjoyed a good show.
Asked if he knew any Bruce Springsteen songs, Parker smiled, “Nah, he’s a little before my time.”
The Boss knows Parker’s tune, though.
And it’s pretty pitch-perfect.