Duke needs Jabari Parker to be like Carmelo Anthony

lkeeley@newsobserver.comMarch 20, 2014 

Jabari Parker sat in the New York Knicks’ locker room in Madison Square Garden, surrounded by a horde of reporters. It was Dec. 19, and Duke had just beaten UCLA convincingly thanks to the freshman’s 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. One reporter compared Parker to current Knicks and former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony.

“Yeah, that’s a good comparison,” Parker said. “You see him, he has mastered the fundamentals. He’s good at his craft, he works on it. That’s a person I’ve been looking up to. That’s a great compliment.”

Duke would love to see as much Melo as possible in Parker over the next few weeks.

In 2003, his only college season, Anthony led the Orange to their lone national championship. Anthony averaged 20.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in six NCAA tournament games, shooting 47.1 percent, as he was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. He capped his performance with 20 points and seven assists – both game highs – in Syracuse’s 81-78 victory against Kansas in the championship game.

Anthony is a rare breed – the one-and-done, lottery-pick freshman who carried his team into the NCAA tournament and beyond. From 2003 to 2013, there were 21 such players, one-and-done lottery picks who were significant contributors (defined by Ken Pomeroy as ending at least 20 percent of a team’s possessions while on the floor) and “carried” their team (either leading in points, rebounds or assists).

Of those 21, eight shot better in the postseason than in the regular season – Anthony, Ohio State’s Greg Oden, UCLA’s Kevin Love, Memphis’ Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, Kentucky’s John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and Florida’s Bradley Beal. Elevating their game was a strong indicator of success – just Evans’ 2009 Memphis team failed to advance past the Sweet 16.

Now it’s Parker’s turn.

“Jabari is one of the best players in the country,” Josh Hairston said, “and we need him to play like that on a day-in, day-out basis and can’t have games where Jabari doesn’t show up because that hurts us as a team. I think he realizes that.”

His time, his team

Parker, who leads Duke in scoring (19.3) and rebounding (8.8), is no stranger to carrying a team through the postseason. He led his high school, Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, to four straight state championships, and he helped the Under-17 USA Basketball team win gold at the world championships on a broken foot. From his sophomore year on, he was the go-to-guy, and he was the top scorer for Simeon in his final three state final games.

It was also during his sophomore year he realized something that he feels is true for this Duke team, too.

“You can control a lot, even if other people aren’t even there, you are the main reason,” Parker said, referring to his role. “You can control the destiny that the team takes.”

Parker finishes 31.7 percent of Duke’s possessions while on the floor – a number exceeded only by Memphis’ Evans and Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, going back to the list of the 21 superior freshmen. Parker closed the regular season with his most productive game – 30 points and 11 rebounds in the victory against North Carolina. That game came on the heels of one of the Blue Devils’ most disappointing games, the loss at Wake Forest.

During the game in Winston-Salem, Parker had been more vocal on the floor, and he was quick to take blame in the locker room afterward, saying he wasn’t a freshman anymore, his team needs him to carry a bigger load. He also conveyed that message to teammates later that night, speaking up unprompted for the first time in a team meeting, assistant coach Jeff Capel said.

“Anytime that we’ve met, normally it’s someone having to say, like coach (Mike Krzyzewski), ‘Jabari, what do you think about that?’ or you’re saying something to him, ‘What do you think about that?’ It’s usually that,” Capel said. “But he spoke up in a very demonstrative way. And it was really good. And then he backed that up with performance.”

Still, even after Parker’s career game against North Carolina, the coaches wanted more, because they think he is capable of more. As Rodney Hood put it, “When he’s that aggressive, he can get any shot he wants to on the floor. It’s just up to him whether he scores or not.”

By nature, Parker deflects attention – he has been in the spotlight since his high school career began – so the challenge for Duke this season has been to get Parker to be more selfish on the court, to take over games. Hood and senior captain Tyler Thornton in particular have encouraged him to touch the ball on every possession. And Capel, who was the head coach at Oklahoma from 2006 to 2011, has drawn from his experience with No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Blake Griffin, trying to teach Parker how to accept the responsibility that comes with being the best player.

Parker averaged 20.3 points per game in the ACC tournament and shot 41.1 percent, which was below his season average of 47.8 percent. In the 72-63 championship game loss to Virginia, he was 9-for-24 and attempted just three free throws.

“In the past, I lost city championships, but I changed my mentality to get a state championship,” Parker said after the loss to the Cavaliers. “I know it’s going to be twice as hard.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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