Andrew Wiggins, the crowned jewel of the 2013 college basketball recruiting class, elected to take his talents to Kansas, but Mike Krzyzewski and Duke got a heck of a consolation prize in Jabari Parker.
You can count the number of college basketball players with more pure talent than Parker on one hand. He already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a young prospect and was called the best high school player since LeBron James in that very same profile.
With so much talent, Parker is clearly on the short list of candidates for ACC Player of the Year honors, regardless of his freshman status. So what do his chances at actually taking home the award look like as the season quickly approaches?
It is worth noting that there are a number of external factors outside of the vacuum that is Parker’s game that will help his cause. He will be lacing it up for Duke, meaning he will be in the national spotlight just about every time he steps on the floor. This will not only help Parker make an impression on voters, it will also prove he can handle the rigors and pressures of premier college basketball.
Furthermore, the Blue Devils have plenty of marquee showdowns on the schedule. Parker will have the opportunity to test his mettle against some of the country’s best, including Kansas, Michigan, UCLA, North Carolina, Syracuse and likely Arizona in the Preseason NIT title game. Of note is that battle with the Jayhawks and the pitting of the nation’s two most-hyped recruits in the country in the season’s first week.
Finally, Parker will be surrounded by a plethora of talented teammates, so opposing defenses can’t simply focus on him as they would someone like Doug McDermott. Between Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon and the rest of Coach K’s options, Parker will be free for a number of shots, especially in the early season.
While all of these factors work in Parker’s favor, the simple fact is he will not be given the ACC Player of the Year award unless he proves it on the court. Given the type of player he is, there is little doubt that this will be the case.
Parker is incredibly long, athletic and versatile. This will allow Krzyzewski to exploit mismatches by using Parker in the small or power forward spots and even occasionally as the de facto big man in a small lineup. As a scoring machine who can attack the rim, hit from mid-range and convert from behind the three-point line, mismatches will lead to plenty of points for Parker.
Furthermore, Parker has a legitimate chance to lead the Blue Devils in rebounding because of his versatility. While various big men such as Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy and Josh Hairston rotate in for concise shifts, Parker will be on the floor almost 40 minutes a night. With more minutes to work with and a formidable wingspan, Parker will lead his squad in boards.
So we know Parker has the talent and opportunities necessary to compete for ACC Player of the Year honors, but who stands in his way competition-wise?
C.J. Fair immediately comes to mind as the leader of the new-kids-on-the-block Orange. He will anchor the suffocating 2-3 zone, score plenty of points, swat some shots in the process and swallow up a ton of rebounds. He is probably Parker's biggest competition.
Elsewhere, Joe Harris of Virginia is arguably the most underappreciated star in college basketball, but the very reason he is underappreciated will also prevent him from winning the award. Fair or not, someone who plays for Virginia would have to perform head and shoulders above a superstar at Duke who is on national television every night to win the conference’s MVP.
In Chapel Hill, P.J. Hairston has done himself no favors and practically eliminated himself from consideration with his off-court issues and looming suspension. James Michael McAdoo is very talented in his own right, but he isn’t quite on par with Parker’s and still hasn’t lived up to the incredible hype that surrounded his arrival on campus.
Perhaps one of Parker’s teammates siphons the award from him (Hood? Sulaimon?), but if a Blue Devil is going to win it, Parker will be the man.
If he can hold Fair off at Syracuse, Parker will prove to people across the country that he is nobody’s consolation prize by winning the ACC Player of the Year and even challenging a certain freshman from Kansas for National Freshman of the Year.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.