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Thursday, December 20, 2012
Parker just couldn't say no to Duke

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Jabari Parker didn't have fun on his visit to Duke.

In fact, it was his worst. He "wanted to be a kid," he said. The Duke visit was "all about business."

Nor was Parker impressed by Duke assistant coach Chris Collins' close ties to the Chicago area. "He's not from Chicago," Parker said. "He's from Northbrook."

And no, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't let Parker see a side of him no one else sees, or lower himself to the always-low levels many college coaches are willing to stoop to land a first-order talent like Parker's.

"He didn't let his guard down," Parker said. "He's Coach K."

The No. 2-ranked player in the class of 2012 had a great relationship with Michigan State's Tom Izzo, an even better tie to Billy Donovan, and a chance to be a religious and cultural hero to not only BYU fans but Mormons across the world.

Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker chose Duke over Michigan State, Florida, BYU and Stanford.

Yet none of it was enough to lure him away from four-time national champion Duke, and its legend of a head coach. When Parker stood in front of fans, friends, family and way too many media members taking too many amateurish cell phone photos -- yours truly included -- the answer was Duke. Few seemed surprised.

"What brought me to the decision is, of course, the history," Parker said. "Duke was always going to be a team in the tournament. You can't go wrong at the program. And most importantly, the long-term investment. I feel if I go there I can get a good degree. I can also stay close to home, where it's easily accessible for my parents, for my family. It's not too far away."

It's hard to argue with the young man's logic, and equally impossible to overstate how big of a get this is for Coach K's Blue Devils. On Thursday, Parker said Krzyzewski congratulated him on his decision, but wasn't all that excited on the phone.

"He said congratulations," Parker said. "[Duke was] pretty excited. I know [I'm] not in their mind. They land players like me all the time."

He's being modest. Nevermind Austin Rivers: No recruit in recent Duke history has come preloaded with either Parker's hype or skill set.

Parker is a three-time state champion in Illinois. He's the only non-senior to ever win Mr. Basketball. He has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated (the headline: "The best high school player since LeBron James is … JABARI PARKER"). He is widely seen as a once-every-five-years type of player -- with a guaranteed NBA future. (Were it not for new No. 1 player Andrew Wiggins, who reclassified from the 2014 class after blowing everyone's minds over the summer, Parker would be No. 1 in his class, too.)

Before he can get to the NBA, though, he'll play at least one season in Durham, N.C. Parker said he could stay for two or even three, "depending how I do" -- where he significantly boosts the Blue Devils' always rosy prospectus.

This offseason, the No. 1-ranked Blue Devils will lose senior forward Mason Plumlee, who is performing at an All-American level, to the NBA draft. Guard Seth Curry and stretch forward Ryan Kelly will graduate. But sophomore point guard Quinn Cook will almost certainly be back, and freshman shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon will probably remain for at least another season.

That, plus Duke's current role players, already makes for a fearsome core. But the Blue Devils staff has already landed two other ESPN 100 players: Matt Jones, the No. 8-ranked shooting guard in the class, and Semi Ojeleye, the No. 10-ranked small forward. With all of their returning pieces, that class, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, and Parker working in the post, Duke will have a very legitimate claim to the No. 1 preseason spot next year no matter how March goes this season.

(The Devils will have to contend with Kentucky, of course, which has already landed Andrew and Aaron Harrison and is the leader in the clubhouse for Wiggins' services -- and perhaps Julius Randle -- which would make the Wildcats a pretty heavy preseason favorite next season.)

It's remarkable, when you think about it. At age 65, Krzyzewski is already the winningest coach in the history of the college basketball. He has won two gold medals and a national title in the past eight years alone. He's become a mentor and confidant to some of the NBA's greatest talents. And he is showing absolutely zero signs of slowing down, refusing to give ground to a score of hard-driving younger coaches -- Izzo, Donovan, John Calipari, Bill Self, Tom Crean -- already entrenched at elite programs.

Blessed with a plethora of options, Parker couldn't help but go with the Blue Devils and their legendary coach.

"It's just Coach K," he said. "That's one of the best coaches ever, and I wanted to be able to experience the things that he has next year."