Parker, Hood in Big Dance for first time

Mar. 19, 2014 @ 08:00 AM

Celebrated locally and nationally for their play in leading No. 8 Duke to another lofty NCAA Tournament seed, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood find themselves as greenhorns this week.

While Duke’s other starters and most of the main reserves have played in NCAA Tournament games, Parker and Hood will be doing so for the first time when the third-seeded Blue Devils face No. 14 seed Mercer on Friday (12:15 p.m., WRAL) at Raleigh’s PNC Arena.

Duke’s leading scorers, Parker (19.2 points) and Hood (16.5 points) must adjust quickly to the win-or-go-home nature of the NCAA Tournament. They have plenty of people in their huddle to tell them about it.

“Guys that were on the team last year,” Duke junior guard Quinn Cook said, “we saw Louisville celebrate and go to the Final Four. Guys have a bitter taste in their mouths. We have to play with a sense of urgency.”

Cook started in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional final at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last season when Louisville, en route to the national championship, ended Duke’s run with an 85-63 win.

Hood was there, too, but not in an official capacity. He transferred to Duke in 2012 following his freshman season at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs didn’t make the postseason. NCAA transfer rules prohibited him from playing at Duke last season, but he traveled to Indianapolis to watch the Blue Devils.

Now, it’s his time.

“Everybody wants to play in the NCAA Tournament,” said Hood, a second-team all-ACC pick this season. “My first year in college I was on the outside looking in. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here — to be on this stage and try to win a championship.”

The 6-foot-8 Parker earned first-team All-ACC and first-team All-American honors this season in addition to being named the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Wayman Tisdale Award winner as the nation’s top freshman.

He also won four state championships in Illinois during his storied prep career at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy. So basketball success in the playoffs is something he’s accustomed to.

Because his brother was a big Duke fan long before Jabari joined the Blue Devils, Parker remembers watching Duke’s early 2000s teams and he’s well-schooled in what March means to coach Mike Krzyzewski’s program.

“Sheldon Williams, J.J. Redick, even before that with Chris Duhon and those teams,” Parker said. “I always saw them doing well in the tournament and always having that energy and that focus as a team that always brought them together.”

Even before playing a minute in the NCAA Tournament, Parker said he knows the urgency that accompanies the games that start this week.

“It’s something that isn’t going to be around too long,” Parker said. “You have to cherish it when you are on the court. There’s no time to be in awe or shock or looking at it with anxiousness. It’s looking at it when you are on the court. That’s what’s going to help me out in our play.”

Hood expects Duke’s opponents to play free and loose because there’s nothing to hold back for the future. For all of Duke’s success this season, including a runner-up finish at last weekend’s ACC Tournament, Hood knows what the Blue Devils (26-8) do from this point forward is how they will be judged.

“It’s the tale of your season,” Hood said. “Nothing else matters before this tournament — whether you had a great season or a good season. All that matters is what you do in the tournament.”

Though neither has indicated what their futures hold, the expectation is that Hood and Parker will leave Duke after this season for the NBA. Both are projected as first-round picks in June’s NBA Draft.

Parker said Tuesday that leaving a legacy at Duke is important. His chance to do that in a positive manner, he said, starts this Friday against Mercer.

“I know it’s not going to be easy,” Parker said. “But the only way you can leave a legacy and you can leave behind memories is by winning a championship. I know we just came up short (in the ACC Tournament). I’ve got to try to do something big now.”