High school star Jabari Parker announced his college choice on Thursday, and his decision was bad news for Michigan State basketball. The multi-talented small forward is heading to Duke, while Tom Izzo and the Spartans are left to wonder what might have been.
Losing any recruit on Parker’s level—ESPNU ranks him at No. 2 in the nation—is a blow to a program with perennial Final Four aspirations. In Parker’s case, though, several factors have conspired to make his absence from East Lansing one that will hurt even more than usual.
In the first place, Michigan State has only one senior on its roster, leaving only one scholarship free for next season. Missing out on Parker means that Izzo goes from a potential impact recruiting class to a waste of a year.
That issue is compounded by the danger that current stars Keith Appling or Gary Harris might declare for the NBA draft in June. Neither is especially likely to leave, but if one or both make the jump, Michigan State will really be up a creek in Parker’s absence.
If Parker chooses to stick around past his freshman year, the situation gets even bleaker for the Spartans.
The team’s 2014 recruiting class currently hinges on two-sport standout Drake Harris. If Harris opts to focus on football after he arrives on campus, Izzo’s squad will be even shorter on star power.
Most frustrating of all for Michigan State fans, Parker is a far better fit for Izzo’s coaching style than most recruits with one-and-done talent.
The three-time Illinois state champion is a winner who’s renowned for his leadership ability and on-court smarts. He’s also a superior passer and impact defender who can play multiple positions.
For Izzo to get a go-to scoring option with all those other virtues would have made the Spartans an immediate national title threat. Instead, Michigan State's often-precarious offense will continue to scuffle along and wish for a leader on Parker’s level.
Lastly, of course, there’s always the chance that Duke and Michigan State could meet head-to-head come tournament time. Branden Dawson is a fine ballplayer, but he’s not in Parker’s league by any stretch of the imagination.
Losing Parker is already punishment enough. The possibility of losing to Parker would be a worst-case scenario for the Spartans.