DURHAM — From the moment Duke and Georgia Tech tipped off, most people in Cameron Indoor Stadium kept an eye on one particular Duke player.
Jabari Parker missed his first five shots.
Jabari Parker was beat in the post by Daniel Miller.
Jabari Parker was replaced on the floor.
Jabari Parker went coast-to-coast, grabbing a defensive rebound and then putting back his own miss on the offensive end.
And on it on it goes. This column, too, only adds to the incessant media swirl that surrounds Dukes fabulous freshman. Its not easy for Parker. Its not easy for his teammates either.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski thought Parker played a little better in the Blue Devils 79-57 win against the Yellow Jackets than he had in the loss at Notre Dame. His shooting off night in South Bend continued against Georgia Tech, as he went 4-for-12 from the field (for 12 points), making him 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) over the past two games. He struggled again defensively. He played 21 minutes, actually three fewer than he had against the Fighting Irish.
Two off games, though, dont negate the performance that game in the 13 games prior.
"People ask me whats wrong with him. Whats wrong with him, hes played great this year," Krzyzewski said. "Its unfortunate the way our game is, mens college basketball, puts so much on these young, extremely talented players to produce at a level that theyre not ready to produce at. But they will produce at some time in their life, hopefully while theyre here.
"And theyre good, (Kansass Andrew) Wiggins and (Kentuckys Julius) Randle and Parker. Theyre 18, 19 years old. Theyve never played at this level, theyve never played the physicality. They havent been as closely scrutinized as everyone is closely scrutinizing them. Theyve been promoted and marketed way beyond what they should be. But thats the way it is. So, its difficult. It is difficult for him. But its difficult for those other kids, too. We have to understand that."
Parker opened the season with seven straight 20-point games, something not seen since Kevin Durant did the same at Texas in the 2006-07 season. It built the hype up more, a feat that wasnt easy given his Sports Illustrated-cover background.
So when he failed to score in double digits for the first time against Notre Dame and then didnt shoot lights out against Georgia Tech, most of the media questions focused on his recent struggles.
Do you think you will bounce back?
"Youve got to be optimistic."
Do you think youve hit a bit of a freshman wall, since the college season is longer and the games more physical?
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "Its an experience I can learn from. It will get me stronger, to know that every game has to be important. In high school, you have certain games that you dont want to play."
As much as Parker has had to adjust to the college game, his teammates have had to adjust to playing with him. It didnt take Quinn Cook long to get comfortable on the court with the offense running through Parker and Rodney Hoodwhen hes on the court, Parker alone uses 30.9 of Dukes possessions, the fourth-most of any player from one of the five major conferences. But Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon went through slumps in the nonconference portion of the season, shuffling out of the starting lineup until both returned Tuesday night for the first time since late November.
Krzyzewski would use an entertainment analogy when asked about Sulaimons strugglesplayers have different roles in comedies, dramas and action movies. Not every production is the same. When talking about Parker, recently, Krzyzewski has turned to baseball analogies.
"ts a long season," Krzyzewski said. "(Derek) Jeter doesnt hit .950. And hes there every day. LeBron, Kobe, all these guys, they lose, they play poorly. In college basketball, those kids, no, theyre supposed to be instant. Its not instant, nothing is instant. And so, Ive got to make sure that we dont let that pressure get to him, where he loses the ability to have fun. He plays the game because he has fun playing, and hes a great kid. Hes still a kid."
And Parker is a kid that doesnt have the luxury of playing with established veterans, like Dukes most recent freshman phenom. When Kyrie Irving came to campus is 2010, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith were entering their senior years. This years seniors are more role players than established go-to guys.
And one other challenge Parker faceshes playing out of position. Hell likely develop into a wing at the next level, Krzyzewski said. And thats where he would play now if Duke had more front court size. But the Blue Devils dont. So Parker spends a lot of time in the post.
"Hes learning a whole bunch of things," Krzyzewski said of Parker. "As hes doing that, were still Duke and everyone expects us to be perfect, win everything and look great while were doing that. It doesnt happen that way. This is a work in progress, and I want to coach them that way, without putting that extra pressure on them."