Jabari Parker is not your average 17-year-old college basketball recruit. No, it's not because he has received offers from Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and UNC, among others. It's because he is considering the possibility of undertaking a two-year Mormon mission when he turns 19.
Parker, the first non-senior to be named Mr. Basketball of Illinois, led Simeon Career Academy to its third straight 4A state basketball championship and was named the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
He has the college basketball world wrapped around his finger right now. Coaches all over the country are salivating at the prospect of successfully obtaining the 6'8" small forward who can do everything imaginable on a basketball court.
While it is very admirable that he is so devoted to his faith, a decision to pass up playing a year in college, then jumping to the pros, would be ill-advised.
Parker doesn't need to abandon the notion of embarking on a Mormon mission, he just needs to postpone it. Taking two years off from organized basketball is a huge issue, especially from ages 19 to 21. While it probably won't kill his draft stock, it would definitely be detrimental to his basketball future.
It's hard to see how this mission would fit into his basketball career though. Would he go to college for a year then take two years off before entering the NBA? What happens during those two years? Do teams lose interest?
Shawn Bradley played one year with BYU, then went on a mission to Australia. He was the No. 2 pick in the 1993 draft, but never lived up to his potential.
Travis Hansen, who attended BYU after he went on his own mission, was drafted No. 37 overall in 2003. He went on to play just one season in the league.
Parker is obviously much more talented than either of the two, but he's not above the impact that a two-year hiatus has on a player.
The human body can only withstand the physical war of attrition that is a professional basketball career for so long. Wouldn't it be wiser to get all of the basketball that he can out of his body and devote his post-basketball life to his faith?
I'm sure Parker realizes the monumental opportunity he has on his hands, and it really isn't that surprising that he's willing to pass up what is possibly the most important three-year span in his basketball career. After all, this is the same kid who at 15 years old said, "Coach K is not Jesus. He's just another human being."
Parker is going to be a dominant player at the next level if he so chooses to take that route. He has conviction. He isn't intimidated by anyone, not even Mike Krzyzewski.
But does he understand what he has in front of him? He has a chance to become one of the best college basketball players in the nation, then go on to be one of the most highly-touted draft picks in the NBA.
I would guess that the percentage of the population that have played in the NBA is less than the percentage that have gone on a Mormon mission. Parker could join the exclusive club that includes those who have done both of those things.
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