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Jabari Parker leaves Duke for NBA with ‘class’

SimeHigh School Basketball Junior Jabari Parker. Thursday afternoApril12 2012. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Simeon High School Basketball Junior Jabari Parker. Thursday afternoon, April12, 2012. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 17, 2014 11:14PM

On a day that was as big as any athlete could have — in this case, Jabari Parker deciding to leave Duke early and declare for the NBA Draft — the former Simeon star continued to keep everything in perspective.

“You know where he is right now? In class,” said Sonny Parker, Jabari’s father, early Thursday afternoon. “That’s where he is — in class. He’s a different breed. Basketball is what he does, but it isn’t who he is.”

Parker, a consensus All-America selection, is leaving Duke after playing just one season for coach Mike Krzyzewski. The 6-foot-8 forward is projected to be a top three pick in the June draft after setting a freshman scoring record at Duke, averaging 19.1 points a game.

“It was his decision and his decision only,” says Sonny Parker, who said he found out his son was going pro today, along with everyone else. “We completely support his decision. He wasn’t influenced by anyone.”

The decision wasn’t an easy one. Sonny Parker said as recently as Monday, when the two talked at a college basketball awards ceremony in Oklahoma City, his son was still up in the air about his decision.

“We really didn’t talk a whole lot about it with him,” says Sonny Parker. “His mother and I just continued to support him, tell him it was his decision.”

Simeon coach Robert Smith didn’t bring up the pending decision with Parker at any time when the two spoke.

“I knew from talking with his father that it was Jabari’s decision, so I was just there to talk about other things like school, classes and life,” says Smith. “But I know it was definitely a hard decision for him and, knowing Jabari, it came straight from his heart.”

Sonny Parker watched his son handle it all with the typical style and grace he’s handled everything with since being in the spotlight at a young age. That spotlight included a Sports Illustrated cover in high school, national TV stories, national Player of the Year awards and being the No. 1 ranked prep player in the country for much of his career.

“He’s been under a whole lot for a long time when it comes to the attention and scrutiny,” says Sonny. “He’s been on that national stage for a long time. But he’s a very mature kid for being just 19. He handles it like he does everything else. An advantage he’s had is having two parents that have tried hard to raise him the right way.”

Smith said he saw Parker’s talents and skill level as early as grammar school; he knew he was getting a basketball gem when he entered Simeon as a freshman. But it was between his sophomore and junior year at Simeon when the coach knew he had a player that was capable of getting to the NBA sooner than later.

“I could tell he was going to be one of those one-and-done, Lebron, Durant-type talents after his sophomore year,” says Smith, who won four straight state titles with Parker.

Smith saw a similar progression from Parker as he did with another former one-and-done talent he coached — Derrick Rose.

“He and Derrick were the same way in one regard,” Smith pointed out. “Everyone was talking about them and telling them how good they were at such a young age. But they were still figuring it out themselves. When they did get to that point, and it was really about the same time in their career, that’s when they took off. When Jabari began to realize how good he actually was, he became a different type of talent.”

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