Duke Basketball: Jabari Parker's Hype Represents Unique Challenge for Coach K

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Duke Basketball: Jabari Parker's Hype Represents Unique Challenge for Coach K
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

There aren't many things left on Mike Krzyzewski's professional bucket list. He's won more games than any collegiate coach in history. He's won four national championships, been to 11 Final Fours and coached tens of future NBA standouts. In 2012, he put his second straight gold medal around his neck.

The list of accomplishments is long enough to write a second Declaration of Independence. This season, he'll be trying to add another: managing the hype of incoming prep star Jabari Parker.

As the Blue Devils prepare for their season-opening clash against Davidson on Friday night, the conversation is fixated on Parker, as if his mere presence is that of an endangered species. Everyone wants to know how he's playing, what his role will be and how this quiet young man will deal with the smoldering spotlight.

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Parker, by all accounts, is one of the most hyped prep basketball players in history. He was the national player of the year in his class for every season except his senior campaign, which was marred by a foot injury. He won the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year Award and a similar award from Max Preps a year later. Simeon Academy won state championships in all four of his seasons with the program.

Kansas star Andrew Wiggins' reclassification took the entire onus off Parker a bit. Wiggins is the can't-miss superstar whose expected presence in the 2014 NBA draft is causing Tankapalooza around the Association. 

 Remember, though, it was Parker—not Wiggins—who earned the moniker "the best high school basketball player since LeBron James" from Sports Illustrated. It was Parker who filled up the stat sheet to the tune of 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.9 steals per game while a senior despite being debilitated by a foot injury. When speaking of Wiggins, the first thing that comes to mind is his unlimited potential and athleticism. With Parker, the list of adjectives to describe his already-honed skills quickly run out. 

Parker represents something of a test case for Krzyzewski. 

When Parker, at the time neck and neck Wiggins for the top player in the Class of 2013, decided to attend Duke, it signified a slight changing of the guard at Duke. By all accounts, Parker is expected to play just one year in college before leaving for the NBA. Schools that recruited Parker did so on the basis of preparing him for the pro game.

That isn't something that Krzyzewski takes lightly. 

Remember, this is the same Coach K who has spoken out multiple times about the one-and-done rule, which forces players to be at least one year removed from high school before entering the NBA draft. His exact phrasing, according to USA Today, was that the NBA "controls college basketball." It was as curmudgeonly as one would expect from the decidedly old-school coach.

But even if Coach K doesn't love the one-and-done rule, he's slowly coming to embrace it. Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers both entered the draft after one season. Parker will be his third one-and-done in four seasons. According to class of 2014 star Myles Turner, Krzyzewski has even begun trying to lure players with the impetus of them being short-stay players.

These are changing times at Duke. Irving was considered a one-and-done possibility, but not a guarantee. I'm still scratching my head over Rivers' decision to turn pro, as it seems are the NBA teams who have watched his career already go up in flames. Parker, by all accounts, is the first player Coach K has recruited and landed during this era where the John Calipari wink-wink agreement was in place. 

What happens next?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Krzyzewski must work to manage the Parker hype, while accentuating the young man's talents in a way that engenders his school to more one-and-done type talents. The 66-year-old coach already started doing that this season by saying this team will be led by Parker...and sophomore Rodney Hood, who has been called the best player in the Blue Devils camp by many. 

“I’m not surprised about Rodney,” Krzyzewski said, via the Charlotte Observer's Laura Keeley. “Rodney, every day last year … he handled that situation unbelievably well and many times was our best player. Being the best player with a blue shirt and no pressure on you, we’ll see now with a white shirt and pressure on you what happens. I think good things will happen.”

Hood was named a co-captain along with Tyler Thornton. He's just the third sophomore captain in the history of Krzyzewski's tenure. It's telling that, rather than give the young captaincy spot to Parker, as one might expect for a player with such considerable hype, Coach K gave it to Hood.

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It's the game he'll be playing all season. Krzyzewski has made clear multiple times that this will be unlike any other Blue Devils team. They'll be playing faster. Traditional positions are for your stat sheets only. Parker could oscillate between the 3 and 4 all season. This is a system that will feed off this roster's versatility and play probably the most entertaining brand of Duke basketball in recent memory. 

The Blue Devils come into the season ranked fourth in the nation. When Krzyzewski spoke at the school's Countdown to Craziness ceremony, he instructed the fans to look up in the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium, where his numerous accomplishments hang down like ghosts of the past. There were the national championships. The Final Fours. The ACC crowns. He instructed fans to look up in the ceiling, telling them that each senior class has left with something to hold on to since he's arrived in Durham.

He instructed them that nothing had changed. That they'd get to leave with a lasting memory hanging from the hallowed arena. 

That may be true. But for Krzyzewski to make sure nothing changes, he needs to realize that everything already has. Starting with Parker.

 

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