Parker right at home with Bucks
Chicago native and No. 2 pick ready to embrace Milwaukee, rivalry with 'my Bulls'
MILWAUKEE -- Oh, Jabari.
After getting drafted No. 2 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, Jabari Parker, practically a one-name superstar in Chicago as a high schooler, declared himself "an underdog" at his introductory news conference Friday morning in downtown Milwaukee.
Is he trying to one-up his fellow Simeon grad Derrick Rose? Could we have a humble-off brewing in the Central Division?
Parker did work hard, and the Bucks are truly an underdog program. But he's been hyped with good reason.
The 6-foot-8, sweet-shooting Parker is an elite scorer with superstar potential. He could be the most famous Wisconsin athlete this side of Aaron Rodgers.
And Rose vs. Parker in an internecine South Side rivalry will be something special to behold. How lucky are Chicago basketball fans for those stars to align? Poor Simeon coach Rob Smith. Who will he root for? Considering Nike pays him and Parker, Rose should start sending flowers and candy.
Rose has always been complimentary of Parker, though the two weren't particularly close because of the age difference. Rose was Simeon's first star player in decades, and Parker eclipsed him as a high school player.
I refer to Parker, Anthony Davis and Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor as being part of the Derrick Rose Generation, a group of wildly talented basketball players who are role model athletes right out of central casting. These guys, along with Curie's Cliff Alexander, are giving Chicago city basketball a very good name.
Parker doesn't see himself as a budding NBA star just yet.
"I'm just ready to be a student," Parker said. "I just want to be able to learn and be a part of the team."
“All season, I've joked that Parker, a practicing Mormon from the South Side of Chicago, is probably the first prospective top draft pick to be eager to play in Milwaukee or Utah.
It's going to be tough, seeing my Bulls. It's going to be also great, because it's like a homecoming again. It won't be the place I reside, but it'll be the place I look forward to playing basketball the most. Because I get to play against another guy of mine, he went to my high school, Simeon, Derrick Rose. It's going to be really exciting.” -- Jabari Parker
That kind of guy doesn't come along often.
You could tell the Bucks are excited. They called an 11 a.m. news conference after a draft that ended around 11 p.m. Bucks coach Larry Drew said he was practically praying for Parker when he watched him work out in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. On draft night, he said the tension was thick in the Bucks' draft room when the Cavaliers made the first pick.
"Everybody was kind of holding their breath," Drew said. "You could've heard a pin drop in that room. And when they announced Andrew Wiggins as the first pick by Cleveland, I kind of looked around the room and looked at the faces, and I could see guys were really trying to hold their composure. I could see faces change because we got the man we really wanted. We really did."
The Bucks should have no problems selling more tickets considering they were last in the NBA in attendance in 2013-14, averaging 13,487 fans per game at the Bradley Center. Chicago fans will flock to Bucks games and this time, they might actually root for the Bucks.
The new owners of the Bucks are certainly hoping Parker helps bring some positive attention to their quest for a publicly financed arena to replace their current one. Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens have threatened that the NBA can take the franchise and move it if that doesn't happen in a certain time period.
Parker won't have to directly deal with that kind of pressure, though it's there. He doesn't even want to be thought of as the centerpiece for a mostly anonymous franchise.
But Parker will have to deal with being the face of the Bucks, a slight upgrade from when he was at Simeon. There's no Coach K to soak up the attention in Milwaukee.
But Parker should have an easier adjustment to the NBA being 100 miles north of where he grew up.
He is a Jordan Brand spokesman and former Bull B.J. Armstrong is his agent, just like Rose. He even has his former college assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski nearby as the new coach at Marquette.
Parker introduced him as "the man who's going to sign those checks when I babysit his kids, Marquette's own Wojo."
Babysitting? How much is the rookie scale contract again?
Parker, looking much more svelte than those pre-draft rumors intimated, tried to deflect questions about being so close to home, preferring to focus on the comfort he felt with his new team. But he admitted it will be weird to be rivals with the Bulls and Rose.
"It's going to be tough, seeing my Bulls," he said. "It's going to be also great, because it's like a homecoming again. It won't be the place I reside, but it'll be the place I look forward to playing basketball the most. Because I get to play against another guy of mine, he went to my high school, Simeon, Derrick Rose. It's going to be really exciting."
When Parker and Rose go at it, humility will go out the window. These are two world-class athletes from the same high school playing so close to home.
Health willing, this is going to be the start of a beautiful rivalry.