Top Kentucky target Parker remains humble amid 'extreme' hype

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 14, 2012 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Jabari Parker, a high school prospect good enough to rate the cover of Sports Illustrated's May 21 edition, sat quietly on a counter top in the interview area. Other participants in the National Basketball Players Association-sponsored Top 100 Camp here danced the familiar give-and-take fandango with reporters after their morning games.

But to approach Parker — say, to note his rooting interest in the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals — was to invite one of the camp's media liaisons to announce that there would be one group interview. Soon. But not yet.

Parker sat impassively. At the appropriate time, he followed the liaison and acted as a Pied Piper for a scrum of reporters who moved with him from the counter top to a set of metal folding chairs across the room.

If there were any doubts that the regular rules did not apply, that became abundantly clear when someone asked Parker about a recruiting process about to get serious.

"Just take my time," he said before adding, "This is my evaluation period for them, too, and try to find a school that fits me best. I have to ask them questions as well."

Players in Parker's position have leverage in the recruiting process. His suitors, who include Kentucky, are just that: suitors. In this hunter-getting-captured-by-the-game scenario, Parker has considered what he'll ask UK and the other seven or eight schools he's considering.

"What would they play me?" he said of the questions he'll ask. "What kind of offense do they run? How can that benefit my game? What do they expect from me to come in as a freshman? To (just) play hard? Or even start?"

Parker, a 6-foot-8 forward from Chicago, is being hailed as the best high school basketball prospect since LeBron James.

"Absurd," said Evan Daniels, an analyst for the recruiting service Scout.com.

No offense to Parker, but to compare anyone to James gives pause. Even Parker, who could be heard lauding James when talking to another camper prior to his mass media session, shied from the LeBron talk.

"That's a little bit too extreme for me," he said, "seeing LeBron (and) how he handled high school and how he was the No. 1 pick. I think that's a little bit too much.

"I'm thankful for it. But I wouldn't consider myself the best since LeBron."

Even with its references to LeBron, Sports Illustrated's story pleased Parker. It showcased his family support, his high school (Simeon in Chicago) and his religion (Mormon). No, Parker said, he has not decided whether to go on a two-year mission at age 19, as encouraged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

"It was the best thing to happen to me because I always dreamed about being on there," Parker said of the S.I. cover.

For many players, the Top 100 Camp is validation as a top prospect and a chance to enhance reputations. For Parker, it's familiar ground. This marks his third straight year here.

"To see it go past so far, it's kind of emotional," he said.

In three years, Parker transformed from eager, maybe too eager, to elder statesman.

"Being more patient," he said of the difference.

Parker, who had eight points and five rebounds in his opening game (he faced off with another highly rated prospect, guard Andrew Harrison), offered no clues about the upcoming college choice.

But Kentucky fans had to like what he said.

When asked if he watched the 2011-12 season with the eye toward his college decision, Parker said, "I looked at Kentucky. They have a lot of penetration. I think that fits my game a little bit."

He said he also looked at Kansas, and noted how the Jayhawks accommodated a versatile forward in Thomas Robinson.

Parker was well aware that he could be the third Chicagoan to start for UK Coach John Calipari since 2007-08. Asked how the booming success enjoyed by Derrick Rose (2007-08) and Anthony Davis (2011-12) played on his mind, Parker said, "It plays big. Those guys I grew up watching. I played with Anthony. Seeing them as top lottery picks, I can put myself in that situation. And it's huge."

No, Parker said, he had not spoken with Rose and Davis at length about the experience of playing for Calipari. After a pause, he added that he did ask Rose about making a college choice.

"He just said you can trust the guy, Calipari," Parker said.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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