A foot injury may be keeping Jabari Parker off the basketball court for the time being, but on Thursday, the scintillating 5-star recruit will finally make his choice of where he will attend college.
If you believe what his father told Jim Halley of USA Today, it seems like the Simeon High School star will be choosing between Duke and Michigan State:
He hasn't told me where. I didn't ask him. It's kind of hard to say. He's like all the schools we've visited. He's hard to read sometimes. He keeps things to himself, so I don't put any pressure on him. I think it will probably be between Duke and Michigan State. That's what I'm thinking.
For both Michigan State and Duke, it seems like a given that Parker will be worth every bit of his hype. Listed at 6'8" and 215 pounds, Parker is a mere 20 pounds from having the frame of an ideal small forward in the post-LeBron James NBA. Gifted with jaw-dropping athleticism and a gift for getting to the basket, Parker has emerged as one of the most complete young prospects in recent memory.
In fact, he was dubbed "The best high school player since LeBron James" by Sports Illustrated back in May.
If Parker winds up being that good, his choice should be clear. He needs to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski and take a shot at college basketball immortality at Duke.
In football recruiting, there are always cabals of complications. Depth chart situations, national championship hopes, the possibility your coach could leave for another job and plenty of other situations crop up because you're committing to three years at a program unless you want to take a full year off.
Parker's decision is inherently less complicated. He's already a starter wherever he goes. Individual players impact basketball more than football, so it's likely he's going to a national championship contender next season regardless. And since he's committing for just one year, there is little-to-no possibility that Tom Izzo or Krzyzewski will retire or leave their schools between Dec. 20 and next season.
One could try to use the "School X has better teammates, so he should go there" argument, but that doesn't work in college basketball. Duke's Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry are seniors, so they're gone, and Rasheed Sulaimon could get a lottery promise and follow them out the door. Michigan State has a roster full of guys who should be back, but circumstances can change instantly with on deep tournament run.
That means Parker's decision has to be wholly individual and that it essentially boils down to three factors: the coaching staff, the overall tradition and atmosphere of the school and his comfort level and relationship with those two previous factors.
We cannot speak on the latter factor. Only Parker knows that and will essentially divulge that answer on Thursday.
However, on a purely objective level, Duke wins over Michigan State by the slightest of margins in both categories.
Being a Duke basketball player may be one of the five greatest distinctions on the planet. The Cameron Crazies may be the best group of fans in the entire nation, and I say that as a proud Penn State grad who thinks there's no better place to be than Happy Valley on a Saturday.
Michigan State's fans are a great and loyal bunch. But it's the difference between classic Coke and Diet Coke. Sure, it's still good, but we'd all want the regular brand if all things were equal.
What's more, Duke did not become the Yankees of college basketball simply because it finishes seventh in the ACC every season. It takes perennial excellence to bring forth that level of vitriol.
As for the coaches, that's not necessarily a fair race.
Krzyzewski's resume obviously speaks for itself. He has the most wins in Division I men's history, four national championships, 11 Final Fours, three Naismith Coach of the Year awards and two Olympic gold medals dangling around his neck.
There may not be a more decorated coach in college basketball history when accounting for era differences.
Nevertheless, Izzo isn't exactly shabby, either. He has over 400 career wins, one national championship, six Final Fours, one Associated Press Coach of the Year award and 15 straight NCAA Tournament berths.
Izzo has also done all of those things despite rarely landing top-flight recruits, doing more with less than perhaps any other coach in the country.
The fact remains that Izzo just isn't Coach K and Michigan State just isn't Duke. It's not a knock, just a fact.
Parker has the opportunity to attend one of the five most preeminent college basketball programs in history and have his name go down with the Grant Hills, Christian Laettners and Jay Williamses of the world.
If Parker lives up to his other-worldly hype, Michigan State provides the opportunity for him to go down as a great college basketball player. Duke provides an opportunity at becoming college basketball royalty.
In my eyes, that's just an opportunity too great to pass up.