by Jabari Parker, as told to Jeff Benedict
Duke freshman phenomJabari Parker has more than lived up to the hype. This season he has shown that he can play anywhere — from shooting guard to center — grab rebounds, knock down threes, and bring Cameron Indoor Stadium to its feet with enormous fastbreak dunks. Through January 22, Parker led the Blue Devils in scoring (18.9 ppg), rebounding (7.7 rpg) and shot blocking (1.2 bpg). NBA stars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade have even come out to watch him play in person.
Make no mistake that all eyes will continue to be on Parker this March as he tries to go down as the greatest freshman in the history of Duke basketball. If the Blue Devils are going to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2010, Parker will be the one to get them there.
But for Parker this year hasn't just been about basketball. He gave SI KIDS an exclusive inside look at his whirlwind season both on campus and on the court.
I started reading Sports Illustrated Kids when I was little. It was my favorite magazine. I especially liked learning about the habits of athletes I admired. Guys like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. So it's an honor to have an opportunity to write something for the magazine.
When I accepted a scholarship to play basketball for Duke, I knew I was coming to play for a legendary coach — Mike Krzyzewski. And I knew I'd be part of a great team with a chance to compete for a national championship. Those are two big reasons why I chose Duke.
But I also wanted to experience the other things that Duke has to offer. It's one of the top colleges in America. I had a 3.7 GPA in high school. I don't say that to brag. It's just that I like school. I enjoy learning new things. And Duke is loaded with super-smart students and great professors.
So far in my freshman year I have studied writing, photography, and anthropology. My favorite class, however, has been one that examines the films of Spike Lee. It's actually an English class and we have studied the words and the art of filmmaking.
Watching movies is my only hobby, so I watch a lot of films. But after taking the Spike Lee class I no longer watch films the way I used to. Now I break them down, scene-by-scene. I look for underlying meanings. And I consider the messages the filmmaker is trying to get across on screen.
Education broadens horizons. It is like going on a journey to a new place and making friends with strangers. My experience is a good example. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I went to a public school called Simeon Career Academy. Everyone in my neighborhood and in my high school is pretty similar. We're the same color and our families are working class. I feel pretty lucky to be from Chicago. I am grateful for my home and the street I grew up on. I enjoyed high school too. The bottom line is that I wouldn't trade my roots for anything. But at the same time, I am very grateful for the new and totally different experiences I've had at Duke. It's not like Chicago. It's not like my neighborhood. I go to school with kids from all over the U.S. and the world. Some are rich. Some are not. Some are Asian and African-American; others are Jewish and Christian.
Being part of such a diverse community is a blessing. It's inspiring. Duke has reminded me that who you are as a person and how you treat others is much more important than a person's skin color, religious affiliation, or ethnicity.
School has also reminded me that I am a part of something much bigger than me. I learn that from being on a team too. As Blue Devils we play our best basketball when we sacrifice for each other. You do that by giving up the ball to a teammate with a more open shot, or by playing team defense that forces turnovers and leads to easy baskets.
I spent many, many hours practicing basketball in my teen years. I avoided parties. I never was into hanging out. I just worked at my game. Rarely a day went by that I didn't touch a basketball. And when I wasn't playing ball, I was usually doing something with my family or my church. Those good habits helped put me in a position to be a college basketball player. Basically basketball became my ticket to the great experiences I am having in college. I guess what I'm saying is that hard work and dedication pay off.
A lot of times kids want things to come easy. But the best things in life aren't handed to us. My coach at Duke went to West Point before he became a coach. He learned discipline and the importance of doing things that are hard. He teaches my teammates and me that sometimes the things we don't want to do are the things we need to do the most.
Photos: CHRIS KEANE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, LANCE KING/GETTY IMAGES, AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, CHRIS KEANE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED