In less than 48 hours Parker would reveal his college choice on national TV. Duke was the front-runner. Coach K had come to close the deal. Parker waited in his bedroom. A shoebox in his closet contained a half-dozen handwritten letters that Krzyzewski had sent to him over the previous 18 months. But recently Parker had begun to think seriously about Michigan State.
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But his lasting impression of Jabari was formed when the camera was off. After a home game in which Jabari barely missed a triple double, Flannigan, a producer at Comcast SportsNet Chicago, waited outside the locker room for an interview. Jabari never appeared. He had used another exit to return to the court for the jayvee game and was behind the bench passing out water.
What makes this all the more surprising is that Jabari, 17, is not just the best high school player in the state. Jabari got that nod after leading the U. Jabari handles the ball like a point guard and has a crossover that makes defenders stumble. Last season he averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. Though he is a serious student with a 3. But his fast track to the pros includes a potential detour. A life-altering decision awaits Jabari that few other athletes of his caliber have had to face.
Mormons make up just 1. And of the 6. At Simeon, Jabari is one of only two Mormons out of 1, students. But whatever doubt there is about who he is or what he represents is quickly brushed away by his character.
Jabari has earned the right to be a role model for kids in Chicago. His character and seriousness of purpose are exceptional.
I know there are a lot of eyes on me. In the president of the church, Thomas S. Monson, called missionary service "a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much.
Jabari wakes up each morning at five and says a simple prayer, thanking God for another day. The two exchanged phone numbers, and the next time Sonny was in town they went to lunch.
Sonny had no questions—or criticisms. He just thought it was interesting to meet a black Mormon. Lola explained that she was Polynesian and that her grandfather had been the second person ever baptized by Mormon missionaries on the island of Tonga. There, for more than 20 years, Sonny has run a nonprofit that puts on basketball camps and sponsors teams for underprivileged kids. Although he never converted, he and his family have attended the Mormon church in Hyde Park for years.
Jabari, like his three older siblings, was baptized there. But he learned more than religion at the church. He learned to play basketball. When Jabari was in grammar school, Christian started taking him there to play one-on-one.
The Parkers lived in a neighborhood where gunfire and street crime were not unusual. Recognizing how much the Parker brothers loved basketball, the bishop slipped Christian a key to the church. At night, if there was no school the next day, Christian and Jabari would wait till their parents were asleep before going to the gym. Then they slept on couches in the lobby. Once, when the cleaning lady showed up at 6 a.
From then on, whenever the boys went missing at night, she knew they were safe. One night when Jabari was in middle school, he dunked for the first time. But the gym had another significance for Jabari. In , Simeon coach Robert Smith had the best team in Illinois. He also had the best player: senior point guard Derrick Rose. Second, this young man is into his church. But he will go to church every Sunday. In the past three seasons he has led the Wolverines to a combined record of , including those three state titles.
Yet coach and star are a bit of an odd couple. Jabari uses phrases from the Bible for motivation and avoids curse words. Smith drops f-bombs regularly in practice and during games. My previous coaches would say things they thought I wanted to hear. He tells it like it is and pushes me past my limit. I want to be treated like everyone else. It would break bonds with my teammates if I took Sundays off.
And when the team is on the road—Simeon plays a national schedule, with games in five states last season—Smith makes sure there is time on Sunday for Jabari to attend church.
He prefers to remain out of the limelight. He knows that if you want to be successful you have to look for guidance from above. I tell kids you can follow God and still be tough-minded. Look at Jabari. The plan was to celebrate and then make the three-hour drive back to Chicago in the morning, which was a Sunday. Lola informed Smith that Jabari would leave before that because he had a church commitment in Chicago. Smith and the other players understood.
So I wanted to stay the night and celebrate. But I knew I had to do what was important. Mormon boys become priests at 16, and his 16th birthday had coincided with the state tournament. One of the primary responsibilities of a Mormon priest is to handle the sacrament every Sunday. Priests also perform baptisms. Jabari has done both, but he has spent most of his time as a priest accompanying Bishop Joe Cannon on monthly visits to the sick, the poor and the elderly—an assignment designed to teach young men the importance of service and self-sacrifice.
An elderly woman from Arkansas was living there. Lonely and dying, she asked Parker and Cannon to sing her some Christmas carols. Fans sat on the edges of their seats as Simeon clung to a two-point lead with remaining. Then an official lost a shoe as he ran to signal a blocking foul. The next three minutes belonged to Simeon.
And with 15 seconds remaining and Simeon up by five, Jabari threw down a two-handed dunk to seal the game. Fans stormed the court, and Jabari found Sonny. The two tallest men in the arena embraced. Before hanging up, Calipari said, "I want to coach Jabari. Each spent one year under Calipari before going pro.
But an even bigger decision awaits in the spring of whether to declare for the NBA draft and become the first African-American Mormon in the league or to serve as a missionary and walk away from basketball for two years. Only one other Mormon athlete aroused anything close to the expectations Parker has elicited at such a young age. Danny Ainge chose not to serve a mission at Christian says going on a mission was the best decision he ever made.
But I have doubts.
JABARI PARKER IS...