Jabari Parker to enter NBA draft, will not return to Duke basketball
The title: "My Decision: Why I made the difficult choice to leave Duke for the NBA."
Parker announced Thursday afternoon that he will declare for the 2014 NBA draft, where he is expected to be a top-three pick in June and could go first overall.
"Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions," Parker wrote. "Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player? Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court? The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA."
With his decision to leave, Parker becomes just the fifth player in Duke history to depart for the NBA after just one collegiate season. The other four are Corey Maggette, Luol Deng, Austin Rivers and Kyrie Irving.
In his only season at Duke, the freshman phenom led the Blue Devils with 19.1 points per game and was the ACC's leading rebounder at 8.7 boards per contest. Parker raked in the honors following his lone season of college basketball, winning the Wayman Tisdale Award as the nation's top freshman. He was named a first-team All-American, ACC Rookie of the Year and was a finalist for the Wooden and Naismith Awards.
“Jabari could not have been better. He is the epitome of what you would want a basketball player to be – outstanding everyday on the practice court and in the classroom and a very humble young man,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a press release. "It was an honor for us to have him in our program and he will always be a part of our family here at Duke. We will be on the Jabari Parker team the rest of our lives and we know Jabari and his family will be on the Duke team for the rest of their lives.”
Associate head coach Jeff Capel played at Duke during an era where players could go straight to the NBA from high school, but said that if faced with Parker's decision to day, going pro would have been difficult to pass up.
"It would have been hard to turn down, being one of the top two or three picks," Capel said. "It probably would have been very hard for me to continue to stay in school."
Should Parker be selected in the top three of this year's draft, his rookie contract will last for three years and pay somewhere between $11.2 million and $13.9 million.
Capel, who Parker said in his Sports Illustrated release served as one of his primary mentors during his year with the Blue Devils, noted that Parker's experience at Duke—both on and off the basketball court—contributed to making the freshman one of the most NBA ready players in this year's star-studded draft class.
"He's just grown so much," Capel said. "To see how he reacted when defenses adjusted, to see how he reacted to adversity when he had a period in the middle of the season where he wasn't playing well and his mental strength to fight through it and get better.... I think he's learned so much from our University."
Parker said that after Duke's upset loss to Mercer in its first NCAA tournament game, he blamed himself and needed to step away from basketball. Many things tempted Parker to remain in Durham for a second year—his teammates, his coaches, the prospect of playing with Chicago native Jahlil Okafor. But most importantly, staying another year would have given Parker a shot at redemption.
It was a decision that weighed on Parker until the day he signed on the dotted line.
"Lately I haven't slept much," Parker wrote. "Although my dream is to play in the NBA, I've gotten pretty attached to life at Duke and I don't want to utter the word goodbye."
Although Parker will wear a different uniform next season, he still plans on graduating from Duke. Parker and his family had a long-term plan for him to earn his degree from the first day he stepped onto campus—whether it be for one, two three or four years.
"Today I sent my letter of intent to the NBA. That makes it official—my days as a Duke basketball player are over," he said. "But my days as a Duke student are not. I intend to graduate from Duke while I'm in the NBA. I was an honor student when I arrived at Duke, and I'd like to graduate as one."