NEW YORK—Jabari Parker did not score a point until almost midway through the first half of the Preseason NIT Semifinal game.
For the first nine minutes of Duke’s 74-64 victory over Alabama, Parker hardly made an impact. In fact, he sat out for a good portion of that time—almost three minutes—after an unusually slow start. Parker missed two jumpshots on the Blue Devils’ first two possessions of the game, and he turned the ball over before committing an early foul.
“I need to stay sharp at the beginning of the game,” Parker said. “I lacked that the first couple of minutes. Nothing is ever too easy.”
But upon re-entering, the freshmen made the necessary adjustments—and the rest of the game was another story.
Parker’s first points of the night, two successful free-throws, put the Blue Devils within two after trailing the Crimson Tide by as many as seven points in the first half. Less than a minute later, his assist to Quinn Cook in transition tied the contest at 15.
Parker didn’t even make a field goal himself until 6:48 remained in the first half—yet he somehow still entered the locker room with 13 points. And not only did the freshman dominate offensively, he also notched six rebounds, a block and a steal.
Still, his second half was somehow even better.
After committing four turnovers in the first half, Parker only committed one in the second. After registering only 15 minutes, Parker played for all 20. Parker was more mobile, appearing seemingly everywhere on the court, and was fouled three times—he made all of his foul shots except for one. All that while tying a career-high with 27 points.
“I just do whatever I have to do for my team,” Parker said. “It’s for my teammates. They give me open feeds, open looks and all the things you don’t know.”
But it was Parker’s most complete game yet as a Blue Devil. On paper, it may have looked like he performed slightly better against Kansas, when he tallied the same amount of points with one more rebound and three fewer turnovers. But one of the most important parts of Parker’s performance against Alabama was that he stayed out of foul trouble after fouling out against the Jayhawks. His second foul came 35 minutes after his first.
“It’s the flow of the offense to go through [Jabari] a lot,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We had incredible foul trouble with Rodney [Hood]. Usually it’s the two of them, and Rodney played… disjointed minutes in the second half, so we went to Jabari even more.”
And the Blue Devils can depend on Parker, because he is a player who can fill every role on the court. Offensive threat, defensive threat; guard, forward, center; shooter, rebounder, shot-blocker.
Parker came into the contest against the Crimson Tide leading Duke in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and free throws made. He’s everywhere.
Is there anything this guy doesn’t do?
The one answer I can think of: fit into Duke’s old system, specifically that of 2012.
Many ghosts of Blue Devils past were present at the NIT Season Tip-off. For one, Duke has no big-man this year, which was a staple of past rosters. Last year, Mason Plumlee patrolled the area under the basket. Recognizing the absence of a tall threat, Krzyzewski heavily recruited 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor to head his 2014 recruiting class. Earlier in the night, Arizona defeated Drexel thanks to an explosive performance from 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, who recorded 15 points and nine rebounds. Tarczewski will be a matchup nightmare for the Blue Devils in Friday's championship, with no tall, legitimate defensive threat to counter.
In addition, Krzyzewski has long depended on the 3-pointer—until this year, when the two centerpieces of the Blue Devils’ offense in Parker and Hood are more explosive threats in the paint. In 2013, however, the offense revolved around both Plumlee and fellow seniors Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry, who led the team in 3-point percentage.
Against the Crimson Tide, there were flashes of Duke’s dependency on the three. Matt Jones’ sequence in which he sunk two consecutive threes with a rebound sandwiched in between was a first-half momentum changer for the Blue Devils. Quinn Cook, who was third in 3-point percentage last season behind Curry and Kelly, was 3-for-4 in treys on the night.
Krzyzewski loves a good 3-pointer, and gave a nod to the three by acknowledging the two guards' strong performances.
“What Matt Jones did was huge in this game, and then Quinn scoring,” Krzyzewski said. “Quinn has to shoot the ball. I thought his shots in the first half, those threes, were huge for us.”
But there hasn’t been a player like Parker to ever wear Duke blue before. In fact, there may not have been a player like Parker to have ever been in the NCAA before.
Parker has proven he could play center—he has taken the opening tipoff at the start of every game, and he is Duke's leading rebounder. He has also proven he could score from the perimeter—coming into the contest, he led the team in 3-pointers made. Yet Parker's role on the team doesn't depend on his size or shooting abilities. He can just as easily steal the ball from his teammate’s matchup, sink a mid-range jumper and make knock down a free throw—all in the same possession.
Parker as a player embodies the Blue Devils’ new 2013 look. Without big men to depend on, Duke has gotten smaller and faster, and it has needed to depend on its skill more than its size. Parker has become the go-to guy in the Blue Devils’ system and has succeeded beyond expectations.
But Parker also represents something more, an irrevocable change to college basketball. In this year’s freshman class, Parker has often been compared to Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle. All three players have performed amazingly so far—Wiggins because of his raw talent, and Randle because of his abilities in the paint. But they’re still not the same as Parker, because Parker can do everything.
There's not very much this guy can't do, but one thing he is doing is redefining college basketball.
Watch while you can, because there will not be another player like Jabari Parker to grace the game for a long time.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.