DURHAM — The questions started on Day One.
Sitting by his locker after Dukes first official preseason practice, Jabari Parker fielded a wide range a questions before the talk inevitably turned to Duke vs. Kansas.
On that September day, the matchup was more than six weeks away. Now its here, as the No.4 Blue Devils (1-0) will tip off in Chicago against the No.5 Jayhawks (1-0) at 10 p.m. (ESPN) Tuesday in the Champions Classic.
Itll be exciting to play Kansas, Parker said when asked about playing against Andrew Wiggins. Playing the alma mater of Wilt Chamberlain and the greats. Thats like us when Grant Hill was here. I want to play Kansas. We want to beat Kansas, Duke vs. Kansas.
Thats typical Parker style, according to his high school coach, Chicago Simeons Robert Smith. Parker, the No.1 recruit in the Class of 2013 until he was sidelined with a foot injury at the same time Wiggins reclassified, was all about the team in high school, and thats the way he has acted at Duke.
I know how everyone is making it, Smith said. Its not going to be Jabari vs. Wiggins. Its going to be Duke vs. Kansas for him.
If the focus is turned to individual matchups, its Rodney Hood, not Parker, who is expected to be the primary defender on 6-foot-8, 200-pound Wiggins. Parker likely will match up on sophomore forward Perry Ellis, who, like Wiggins, Parker and Hood, stands 6-8.
To simplify Kansas down to Wiggins would be a gross mischaracterization, just like singlingout Parker isnt a fair breakdown of Duke.
The Jayhawks are loaded with future NBA talent, and the best future pro might not even be in their starting lineup. Freshman center Joel Embiid, a 7-footer from Cameroon, is beginning just his third year of organized basketball.
With Embiid, 6-9 forward Tarik Black (who chose Kansas over Duke for his final year of eligibility), Ellis, Wiggins at the small foward along with 6-5 guard Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas is huge, to use Duke coach Mike Krzyzewskis descriptor.
That will challenge the Blue Devils, who lack a true post presence.
Its a big game for us as a team, senior captain Tyler Thornton said. Weve got to stick together. We cant worry about one-on-one things, worry about the media.
Krzyzewski, though, has talked with Parker about the challenges of returning home for a high-profile game.
Tickets, friends calling, stuff like that, its amazing preparation for postseason on Nov.12, said Krzyzewski, who also hails from Chicago. People are going to call you, you have new friends, you have old friends, you have cousins, so how do you handle all that? Well talk to him, and he needs to let us know how we can help in that regard.
Parker passed his first collegiate test with flying colors, scoring 22 points in 23 minutes against Davidson, shooting eight of 10 from the field and 3-for-3 from 3-point range. He also added six rebounds, two assists and a block (against one turnover) and was named the ACC Rookie of the Week.
Defensively, he spent time on the Wildcats big man, DeMon Brooks, and guard Chris Czerapowicz. Thats the type of defensive versatility Krzyzewski wants to see.
The Blue Devils will switch as part of their man-to-man defense, so its likely Parker will find himself on Wiggins at least momentarily. The two arent friends, Parker said, but they will say hi when they see each other. To Parker, its just two more players in a long line of greats at Duke and Kansas.
I dont hate the guy, Parker said. I think yall just want to make it a frenzy, build a story.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley