Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Jabari Parker: 'He's learning'

Posted by Laura Keeley on January 7, 2014 

Jabari Parker gets more than his fair share of focus, from the media and opposing teams


— 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 Duke’s fabulous freshman. It’s not easy for Parker. It’s 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, don’t negate the performance that game in the 13 games prior.

"People ask me what’s wrong with him. What’s wrong with him, he’s played great this year," Krzyzewski said. "It’s unfortunate the way our game is, men’s college basketball, puts so much on these young, extremely talented players to produce at a level that they’re not ready to produce at. But they will produce at some time in their life, hopefully while they’re here.

"And they’re good, (Kansas’s Andrew) Wiggins and (Kentucky’s Julius) Randle and Parker. They’re 18, 19 years old. They’ve never played at this level, they’ve never played the physicality. They haven’t been as closely scrutinized as everyone is closely scrutinizing them. They’ve been promoted and marketed way beyond what they should be. But that’s the way it is. So, it’s difficult. It is difficult for him. But it’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t shoot lights out against Georgia Tech, most of the media questions focused on his recent struggles.

Do you think you will bounce back?

"You’ve got to be optimistic."

Do you think you’ve hit a bit of a freshman wall, since the college season is longer and the games more physical?

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "It’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t take Quinn Cook long to get comfortable on the court with the offense running through Parker and Rodney Hood—when he’s on the court, Parker alone uses 30.9 of Duke’s 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 Sulaimon’s struggles—players 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.

"t’s a long season," Krzyzewski said. "(Derek) Jeter doesn’t hit .950. And he’s there every day. LeBron, Kobe, all these guys, they lose, they play poorly. In college basketball, those kids, no, they’re supposed to be instant. It’s not instant, nothing is instant. And so, I’ve got to make sure that we don’t let that pressure get to him, where he loses the ability to have fun. He plays the game because he has fun playing, and he’s a great kid. He’s still a kid."

And Parker is a kid that doesn’t have the luxury of playing with established veterans, like Duke’s most recent freshman phenom. When Kyrie Irving came to campus is 2010, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith were entering their senior years. This year’s seniors are more role players than established go-to guys.

And one other challenge Parker faces—he’s playing out of position. He’ll likely develop into a wing at the next level, Krzyzewski said. And that’s where he would play now if Duke had more front court size. But the Blue Devils don’t. So Parker spends a lot of time in the post.

"He’s learning a whole bunch of things," Krzyzewski said of Parker. "As he’s doing that, we’re still Duke and everyone expects us to be perfect, win everything and look great while we’re doing that. It doesn’t happen that way. This is a work in progress, and I want to coach them that way, without putting that extra pressure on them."

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