Jabari Parker announced on Thursday that instead of leaving for his Mormon mission or returning for his sophomore year at Duke, he will make the jump to the NBA. The five-star recruit out of Simeon Career Academy in Chicago has been the center of attention since high school, being named the National High School Player of the Year, as well as being chosen as a consensus first-team All American during his freshmen year at Duke University.
Parker announced last week that he would skip his two year mission, but was still undecided as to whether or not he would return for his sophomore year. A stellar first season that saw him average 19.1 ppg, 8.7 rebounds, a selection as a first-team All ACC player, and a first-team All-American. Parker, who is projected as a top five pick in the 2014 Draft entered his freshmen season as skilled as any player in the country, showing off his well-defined skills that made him look NBA ready from day one. He started the season with seven 20 point games in a row, and eclipsed the double-digit mark in 12 out his first 15 games, which immediately made him locked and loaded as a future Lottery pick.
There’s been hundreds of college athletes who have chosen to put their collegiate athletics career on hold while they left for their two year Mormon mission, but none of them have been as highly decorated, or as sought after by NBA GM’s as Jabari Parker. In 2012, North Carolina’s Stilman White and Harvard’s Corbin Miller, both point guards, decided to put their sophomore year on halt while their faith-based mission’s led them away from the hardwood. While skilled players in their own right, neither of them were in the same stratosphere as Parker, and unlike the 6’8 Forward, millions of dollars and a shoe-in Lottery Pick was not staring them in the face.
Shawn Bradley, the notable Mormon who stood 7’6 from BYU left for Australia to serve on his mission following his freshmen year, and then entered the NBA Draft, being chosen second overall by the Philadelphia 76’ers. However, he has admitted that, “as far as basketball skills go, the mission probably did hamper me,” but also mentioned if he had not left for his mission that, “the NBA would have chewed me up and spit me out in two years.” It’s a decision that faces hundreds of players each year in college athletics, but for many, it’s a decision to leave college life and a game for two years. College and the game will be there for them when they return. Jabari, whose name in Swahili means “valiant” or “the brave one” is not like every other athlete.
Who can blame a guy like Jabari Parker for making the jump to the NBA? He’s proven during his freshman year that he’s a humble man who doesn’t need to constantly wear his faith on his sleeve to be the person that he wants to be. “Jabari doesn’t publicize his faith,” said Krzyzewski, “he doesn’t throw it in your face.” Parker is a polarizing figure, no two ways about it—both as a man and as an athlete. While it seems like a no brainer to take the money and run instead of leaving for a Mormon mission, Parker presents himself as a young man who is headstrong, smart enough to make a wise and professionally life-altering decision that’s best for himself, while keeping his beliefs close to his heart.
Commentary by Johnny Caito