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Friday, November 29, 2013
Parker, Gordon share stage in NIT final

By Andy Katz

NEW YORK -- This is the last time any of the fantastic four freshmen will be pitted against each other until possible postseason matchups.

Duke's Jabari Parker and Arizona's Aaron Gordon lead their respective top-10 teams but in hardly the same manner.

And yet each of them shares a significant burden, whether they admit it or not.

Each needs to shine for his team to win the NIT Season Tip-Off title Friday night at Madison Square Garden (6 p.m. ET, ESPN), their respective conference and ultimately the national title.

Here are five things we've learned:

Parker is unfazed: He is arguably the most grounded elite freshman to come to college since Kevin Durant. Parker plays with a coolness about him. He doesn't pout. He doesn't boast too much. He plays to his game and is hardly out of his element. His answers are always stock, but respectful. He is always about team, never about himself.

Gordon is humble: The Arizona coaching staff loves to tell a story that Gordon served them on his home visit. He was the one making sure they were fine in the home. There was no sense of entitlement. And it shows. If he is not the focus of a possession and the game is being directed more from the perimeter with Nick Johnson or T.J. McConnell, he hardly mopes. He finds his way to contribute, by commanding attention, getting to the backboard or simply running the floor.

They score with ease: Parker's 27 came in stretches against Alabama. But he had his full game on display. He can score from essentially anywhere on the court. He can handle the ball as a Scottie Pippen-like point forward. He draws attention, which can be pointless for a defender, but immensely important for his teammates. Gordon can handle it as well, choosing on many an occasion to rip and run on the break and start off the possession. He runs the floor as well as any big man.

Family first: The snapshot of meeting the Parkers in Chicago and the Gordons here in New York is telling. They both exude warmth with a strong sense of family for two players who already have been the ultimate teammates to two elite programs and title contenders. Right or wrong, on elite stages, the families are present, not a third-party.

Importance: Parker has to score for Duke to win. Gordon does not. The intangibles from Gordon are a must, and while Parker possesses them as well, the onus on him is to produce points.