Jabari Parker’s public unveiling to Duke’s basketball fans ended just shy of perfect on Friday night.
Yes, the 6-8 Parker was unable to successfully grab fellow forward Rodney Hood’s lob pass and slam the ball home in the final minute of the Blue Devils’ scrimmage.
There was little else to nitpick over though as Parker, one of the top incoming freshmen this college basketball season, showed his immense talents during Duke’s Countdown to Craziness season tip-off event at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
In the first 15-minute scrimmage, Parker scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in 13 minutes of play. Twice he grabbed defense rebounds and turned up court, dribbling through the defense to go coast-to-coast to the rim.
“That’s what they want me to do,” Parker said. “Just start the break. Like Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) said, he wants to play a real fast up-tempo game.”
The sold-out crowd on hand at Cameron was eager to see the revamped Blue Devils and, from the constant cheers, was rarely disappointed.
Parker and Hood are stepping into the starting lineup in their first seasons playing for Duke. The Blue Devils went 30-6 last season, reaching the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament behind seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly.
They are in the NBA now, which left Parker, Hood and the rest of this year’s Blue Devils to soak in the Cameron atmosphere on Friday night.
For Parker, the former Chicago schoolboy superstar who received a rousing ovation during player introductions, the experience was as he imagined it would be.
“It was just a blessing, a dream come true,” Parker said. “I fantasized about this in Chicago.”
Krzyzewski addressed the Cameron Crazies in between the two 15-minute scrimmages. Duke’s coach since 1980, owner of the most men’s college basketball coaching wins (957) plus four NCAA titles, Krzyzewski said he’s as ready as ever to tackle a new season.
“Even after 34 years, it still feels damn good,” the 66-year-old Krzyzewski said, “and the reason it does is because you make it feel that way.”
The Blue Devils are a consensus top-five team in every preseason poll that’s been released. That’s true even though so much of the point production from last year’s team headed to the NBA in Plumlee, Kelly and Curry.
But, with Parker and Hood in the fold along with returning players like point guard Quinn Cook, forward Amile Jefferson and guard Rasheed Sulaimon, Krzyzewski encouraged Duke’s fans to imagine winning big.
He asked them to close their eyes and think about the championship banners already hanging in Cameron, representing four NCAA titles, 15 Final Fours and 19 ACC Tournament championships.
He asked the fans to say “I want one” and they did. Then he punctuated his comments by saying, “Then let’s get it.”
Redshirt senior Andre Dawkins knows about helping hang banners. As a freshman, he was a key reserve on the 2010 NCAA championship team.
Dawkins received an especially loud and long ovation himself on Friday night as he returned to active playing status. Dawkins sat out last season as a redshirt to deal with emotional issues that stemmed from his older sister’s death in a 2009 car accident.
As the fans cheered him, Dawkins smiled and yelled “I’m back. I’m back.”
“It felt great,” Dawkins said. “I really appreciate the fans for the reception they gave me. It’s just fun to be back out there in front of them and I’m looking forward to the year.”
His first shot attempt in the scrimmage was a 3-pointer and he drilled it. They were the first points scored in the scrimmage.
The most memorable points were arguably authored by Parker on a play he turned in during the second 15-minute scrimmage.
He ran down the second offensive rebound of a possession with his back to the basket. A head fake and a spin move gave him a path to basket. He drove the baseline, soared under the basket, spun in the air and threw down a dunk over 7-0 sophomore Marshall Plumlee.
It was the first look at Parker for Duke’s fans but not one they’ll likely forget anytime soon.