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Simeon’s Jabari Parker is more than just a basketball star

Junior Jabari Parker #22 Simeplays varsity game Harlan Community High School. SimeCareer Academy High School's basketball team visits Harlan Friday

Junior Jabari Parker #22 of Simeon plays in a varsity game at Harlan Community High School. Simeon Career Academy High School's basketball team visits Harlan on Friday, January 27, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Jabari Parker has been a local star since grade school, but his play on the club circuit last summer catapulted him into the national spotlight.

Where he’s ranked

1. Jabari Parker

2. Nerlens Noel
(6-10, C, Tilton, N.H.)

3. Julius Randle
(6-8, F, Plano, Texas)


1. Jabari Parker

2. Nerlens Noel

3. Julius Randle

1. Jabari Parker

2. Julius Randle

3. Nerlens Noel

1. Andrew Harrison
(6-8, G, Fort Bend, Texas)

2. Jabari Parker

3. Nerlens Noel

What they’ve said

‘‘After the summer, if you polled recruiting analysts and college coaches, there’s a good chance Jabari Parker would prevail as the top overall prospect in high school basketball, regardless of class.”

ESPN’s Dave Telep, on Aug. 12

offensive package has developed to the point where there’s not much he can’t do.”

national basketball recruiting analyst for Scout, on in July

“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached.”

Robert Smith,
Simeon coach

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Updated: May 16, 2012 10:55AM

Some of the crowd had squeezed out of the small gym on South Vincennes Avenue, and the high-pitched, nearly constant blare of a Simeon game at full throttle was gone, replaced by a reasonable roar.

Jabari Parker had done what you would expect from the No. 1 high school junior in the country, scoring 20 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, blocking five shots and, whenever the game Wednesday got relatively close, disabusing Bogan of any notions of an upset.

Now the freshman-sophomore game was in progress, and Lola Parker regarded her son as he sat behind Simeon’s bench. Whenever a player came off the court, Jabari would offer him a cup of water. Here was one of the best athletes in the country with his hand out — not to take but to give. The star as servant.

‘‘I was watching his teammates on the varsity team,’’ she said. ‘‘They were socializing with their friends. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing. And here’s my kid wanting to be the water boy, sitting behind the frosh-soph kids, cheering them on and supporting them.

‘‘That’s what I find pride in — that my kid truly gets it and that this thing called fame that he’s going through is really nothing because we are all beggars to God. We really are all the same. We’re all out here struggling. It makes it a lot easier when you run into people that care about people. That’s what I’ve tried to instill in Jabari.’’

This thing called fame had come calling for Jabari a long time ago, but, to its eternal regret, his mother had answered the door. Lola and Sonny Parker, a former NBA player, have tried to teach each of their seven children about humility, gratitude and other things that often run counter to the prevailing messages of our time.

Lola told Jabari, her youngest, that if he could remain humble, it would stand out like neon at midnight. People would respect him. They would be drawn to him. There was something powerful about understatement and modesty.

So he carries water for others.

‘‘I want the whole Simeon basketball team to be successful on all levels,’’ he said. ‘‘In order for us to win, they can get a lot of energy from the bench. I try to be a supporter.’’

A few weeks ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared before students and faculty at Simeon to help present Parker with USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year award. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant won the award the previous year. The next day, Lola looked at newspaper photos of Jabari and Emanuel laughing together.

‘‘What was so funny up there?’’ she said to her son.

‘‘I told the mayor, ‘I hope they don’t boo me,’  ’’ he said.

Lola related that story with wonder in her voice, as though she just had seen caribou running down 79th Street.

‘‘I mean, who would say that when they’re honoring you?’’ she said. ‘‘This is the kind of person I have tried to raise Jabari to be — that we are no better than anybody else, that our status doesn’t define who we are. Our wealth and where we live, that’s not who we really are.’’

‘An example for everybody’

What are we? Isn’t each of us trying to answer that question? What do we stand for? What are we all about?

Jabari Parker is a basketball player, a great one. He’s a member of the top-ranked high school team in the Chicago area, and he played on Simeon’s Class 4A state championship teams the previous two seasons. During the summer, he led the United States to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas Under-16 tournament. He was named the MVP of the tournament. If you want to define him by all of that, no one would utter a word of dissent.

He wouldn’t.

‘‘I want to play at the highest level, the NBA, and one day be one of the greatest basketball players ever,’’ Jabari said.

But there’s more to him.

Jabari is the son of an African-American man and a woman of Tongan descent who is Mormon. Three times a week, he wakes up at 5 a.m. to go to scripture study in Hyde Park with other high school-aged Mormons. This year, they’re studying the Old Testament.

‘‘It helps me as a teammate and a person,’’ he said. ‘‘It helps me to be respectful. I’m just like everybody else. I’m just here to be an example for everybody, so they can feed off the good that I have.’’

Teenagers and sleep were made for each other, but Lola said the decision to wake up when it’s dark is Jabari’s.

‘‘As parents, we’ve always instilled certain things,’’ she said. ‘‘But there’s a time for them to practice it. That’s totally up to them. When Jabari leaves to go out of town and I or Sonny can’t travel, I look at him and say, ‘This is the time to practice all that you have been taught. Don’t bring shame to your father’s name.’ He really understands that.’’

Sonny Parker starred at Farragut High School and went to junior college before landing at Texas A&M. The Golden State Warriors chose him in the first round of the 1976 draft. He had a couple of good seasons in a six-year career, but his best move came when he met Lola in a Salt Lake City mall and invited her to the Warriors’ game that night against the Utah Jazz.

‘‘The rest is history,’’ Sonny Parker said.

Jabari, who is 6-8 and 230 pounds, gets his height from his dad, who is 6-6. The athleticism that allows him to play point guard at times? Don’t be so quick to attribute all of it to Sonny. Three of Jabari’s relatives on his mom’s side play football: Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki, Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata and running back Harvey Unga, who was a 2010 supplemental draft pick of the Bears. He has seen them on TV but never met them.

‘‘Those guys are so wide, and I’m so narrow compared to them,’’ he said. ‘‘I look anorexic by comparison.’’

A humility to his game

By the time Parker was in second grade, he was as big as the fourth-graders he was competing against in a league in Deerfield. A few years later, he became teammates and fast friends with Cory Dolins. You’d have a hard time finding two people from more different backgrounds. Cory is white, Jewish and from north suburban Lincolnwood. Jabari is black, Tongan, Mormon and from the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago.

‘‘We have a lot in common,’’ Jabari said. ‘‘We don’t see color. We’re always helpful to others. We just bond together. There was just a real click when we first played with each other.’’

Both kids are health-conscious. Dolins doesn’t eat hamburgers, hot dogs or French fries. Parker doesn’t eat red meat.

‘‘He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met,’’ said Dolins, a senior who plays at Niles West. ‘‘Sometimes we’ll hang out downtown. People will come to him and say, ‘Hey, good game. You’re awesome.’ I’ll be like, ‘Do you know him?’ And Jabari will say no. But he’s always really nice to them. He doesn’t turn anybody away.’’

On occasion, Parker comes to Niles West games to watch Dolins play.

‘‘Some of the little brothers of my teammates will ask him for autographs during the game,’’ Dolins said. ‘‘He signs them.’’

Do they ever ask for autographs of the Niles West players?

‘‘No,’’ he said, laughing.

There’s a humility to the way Parker plays basketball, if that can be said about a kid who can take over a game whenever he wants. You wouldn’t know he’s the star until he gets the ball in his huge hands. Part of that has to do with having talented teammates such as Steve Taylor (Marquette) and Kendrick Nunn (undecided), both future Division I players.

When Bogan cut Simeon’s lead to 12 in the third quarter Wednesday, Parker scored on three consecutive possessions. Just like that, the lead was 19.

It’s easy to lose sight of his uniqueness as a player. He can made the three-pointer. He can play the post. He can make a move at the top of the key to shake a smaller defender. So? So you have to keep reminding yourself he’s 6-8, not 6-3, like former Simeon star Derrick Rose. And that he’s a 16-year-old junior.

‘‘He’s truly the best player I’ve ever coached at this level,’’ Simeon coach Robert Smith said. ‘‘Derrick was great; you never can take away from his speed and athleticism. But when you’re talking about basketball and being able to do everything completely, it’s Jabari.’’

Duke is after him, as are Illinois, Kansas, Michigan State and many other top programs. He hasn’t decided on a college, and he said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll go on a Mormon-sponsored mission. One of his brothers did.

A boy has talent, and everybody wants to shove him through the one mandatory year of college and into the pros. Everybody’s in a rush these days.

‘‘We don’t want to put that thought in his head,’’ said Sonny, who runs a youth foundation in Chicago. ‘‘That’s why we keep him away from a lot of this stuff. People get to saying things. I told him, ‘We’re OK [financially]. We could be better, but we’re fine.’ If the time comes, we’ll sit down as a family and look at those options. But right now, we’re just getting through high school.’’

Jabari, meanwhile, keeps working.

‘‘I have big goals and dreams,’’ he said.

There’s a big, thirsty world waiting for him.

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