DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker said he’s familiar with the term “freshman wall” and even said it’s OK to say that he's hit his mental wall.
Parker led the Blue Devils in scoring at 20.4 per game, which also ranked 28th nationally, before Duke's 79-57 win over Georgia Tech Tuesday in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But Parker’s three lowest scoring games have come in his last three games, as he followed Saturday’s 2-of-10 performance at Notre Dame by going 2-for-9 in the first half against Tech.
“It’s just all in the learning experience,” said Parker, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds against the Yellow Jackets. “It’s my first time playing at such high competition day in and day out, but it’s just something I’m going to learn from and something I’m going to get through.”
Parker even implored to the media after the game, “I’m human, I make mistakes.”
People needed to be reminded. We’ve come to expect freshmen such as Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins to be robotic in a sense. We expect that they can be plugged into a lineup and instantly produce big numbers, plugged into a roster and instantly produce big wins.
“LeBron, Kobe and all these guys they lose, they play poorly,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But in college basketball, those kids, it’s like, ‘No. They’re supposed to be instant.’ It’s not instant. Nothing is instant. We just have got to make sure that we don’t let that pressure get to him and he loses an ability to have fun.”
Parker’s fast start made it seem like he skipped the need for patience. He opened the season scoring 20 or more in seven consecutive games -- the first to accomplish the feat since Kevin Durant’s lone season at Texas in 2006-07. He’s on pace to break Johnny Dawkins’ school record for freshman scoring too. He entered Tuesday ranking fifth in the ACC in rebounds (7.7) and field goal percentage (51.2).
But as Duke and other teams reliant on standout freshmen find out, there will still come a time when they will remind you they are still just a freshman.
“So he’s learning a whole bunch of things and as he’s doing that, we’re still Duke and everyone expects us to be perfect and win everything and look great while we’re doing it,” Krzyzewski said. “It doesn’t happen that way. This is a work in progress.”
Parker said he’s noticed teams defending him more effectively than they did earlier in the season. Scouting reports have thoroughly exposed his go-to moves.
“They’re doing different stuff, but that’s where I’ve got to work on my counters and find other ways to score the ball instead of the first initial part of the attack,” Parker said.
Duke guard Quinn Cook said Parker was going to struggle as freshmen do, but it was important to note that right now it was only because his shot wasn’t falling. His entire game hasn’t gone kaput.
“Everybody gets caught up in the hype of scoring but he played a great game defensively,” Cook said. “People aren’t going to talk about that and reporters aren’t going to talk about that.”
The quickest way to get the side-eye from Krzyzewski is to ask what’s wrong with Parker because of his recent games. He’d probably give the same reaction if the question was posed of Wiggins and Randle.
“They’ve never played at this level, they’ve never played with physicality, they haven’t been as closely scrutinized as everyone is scrutinizing them,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve been promoted and marketed way beyond what they should be. But that’s the way it is.”
Parker’s play has merited all the attention he’s received. But the spotlight might feel more constricting because of the lack of veterans on the Blue Devils. Krzyzewski said when Kyrie Irving had Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith as established leaders when he was a freshman, so he didn’t have to deal with as much pressure even before his injury.
Krzyzewski said too much was put on the extremely talented players in college basketball to produce at a level and with a consistency that an 18- or 19-year-old kid isn’t ready to produce.
“They have to grow,” Krzyzewski said. “We have to give them a chance to grow.”