Duke all-America Jabari Parker still learning, still growing
It was just after midnight March 6 and something had clicked in Jabari Parker’s mind.
Duke’s basketball team gathered with the assistant coaches for an update on head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s health issue, a dizzy spell that sent him to Duke University Hospital for tests that eventually cleared him.
That meeting turned into a talk about how the team had played a few hours earlier in a disheartening 82-72 loss at Wake Forest.
Parker, Duke’s heralded freshman star, had said in his post-game comments the loss was on him for not making enough big plays. With a game against rival North Carolina three days away, it was time for him to air his feelings out to his teammates.
“At one point, he became very vocal, which he really hadn’t done all year,” Duke associate coach Jeff Capel said.
Parker took blame for No. 7 Duke’s sometimes passionless play, which led to ACC road losses to Notre Dame, Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest. He said he couldn’t be a freshman anymore. He said he had to become a leader on the team.
Saturday night, Parker delivered with a 30-point, 11-rebound night as Duke beat UNC 93-81 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Parker talked a good game and proceeded to back it up, which made his words mean even more.
“It started the next day in practice on Thursday,” Capel said. “It was there again on Friday and the world saw it on Saturday.”
Now it’s the postseason with third-seeded Duke’s first ACC Tournament game at Greensboro Coliseum tonight (9:30 p.m., WRAL/ESPN) against No. 6 seed Clemson.
Freshly minted as a first-team all-American by The Sporting News and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, Parker’s play and his passion will be needed now more than ever by Duke (24-7).
He has no problems with that.
“Something had to change,” Parker said. “Everything that was on our minds we had to spill out and just share with the team, because we can’t let ourselves get held back anymore and we need to be there for each other throughout our time here. This is our last time together, so we just have to pull through for each other.”
Parker’s statistics are impressive as he is second in the ACC in scoring (19.2 points) and first in rebounding (9.0). He’s made 48.7 percent of his shots, including a respectable 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers.
He’s recorded 14 double-doubles in ACC play alone.
But Krzyzewski said Parker’s play is reaching a new level at the right time.
“The thing that I saw on Saturday (against UNC) was he went through resistance more and even got closer to the basket and made more moves than he has,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s played great. Saturday was even better. He is going to continue to grow. For however long he is with us I think he will still grow. He’s still young. He’s shown a steady progress and an upward progression that is really neat to see.”
Parker started the season like he’d been playing college basketball for years. He scored 21 or more points in 12 of Duke’s first 14 games. That included a 23-point, 10-rebound effort on Dec. 19 at Madison Square Garden in New York City when Duke beat UCLA 80-63.
But, after the Christmas break, Capel said he saw Parker’s game hit a lull.
Parker was 2 of 10 with seven points when Duke lost 79-77 at Notre Dame on Jan. 4. He was 4 of 12 with 12 points in a win over Georgia Tech three days later, but Parker made just 5 of 13 shots and scored 15 points in a 72-59 loss at Clemson on Jan. 11.
Two nights later, Duke beat Virginia 69-65 at Cameron but Parker scored eight points on 3 of 11 shooting.
“I personally think he got a little tired and I think he settled,” Capel said. “I think he was shooting the ball so well before Christmas and he was making difficult shots at times. I think he settled. That’s part of the learning process. I think he hit a little bit of a wall because of how much we were leaning on him for scoring, rebounding.”
Parker worked through it and has scored in double figures in every Duke game since the Virginia game two months ago.
Krzyzewski said such an experience is common for freshmen, even one as talented as Parker.
“It’s a big change for a high school kid, especially for a kid that’s a bigger guy,” Krzyzewski said. “Understanding how much contact will be used and how much you can use in your game both offensively and defensively. So there is a great growth pattern there that occurs during the year. I think it’s more of an evolution of things.”
Parker has impressed the Duke coaches with his learning ability and his willingness to learn.
“That is very rare for a guy of his talent, especially of his age that’s accomplished so much in high school,” Capel said. “But you can get on him and he responds to it and I think that’s helped him out a lot because Coach (K) has coached him hard.”
Capel said Parker’s parents played a role in making that possible, as well as his part in helping Chicago’s talented Simeon Academy team win four consecutive Illinois Class 4A state championships.
Parker stepped into the pressure cooker of Duke basketball and produced enough to be an All-American. Now he’s expressing desire to do even more to help the Blue Devils in their chase for both ACC and NCAA championships.
“For him to be able to perform like that with all the scrutiny, all the pressures of playing at Duke and the expectations of carrying our team, especially offensively, and what he’s been able to do rebounding the basketball?” Capel said. “It’s pretty incredible.”
WATCH ONLINE — UNC and Duke beat writers Harold Gutmann and Steve Wiseman take a look at the Tar Heels’ and Blue Devils’ chances of winning the ACC Tournament in the latest episode of Our Game: Duke/UNC. Catch the weekly webcast online at www.heraldsun.com/sports/gameday.