Jabari Parker Faces Key Test After Recent Struggles and Increased Scrutiny

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 19:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils puts up a second half shot against Kyle Anderson #5 and Travis Wear #24 of the UCLA Bruins during the CARQUEST Auto Parts Classic on December 19, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Duke freshman sensation Jabari Parker is finding out the downside of setting a remarkable standard early in his college basketball career. He's going through a minor slump right now and, for a player with his enormous hype, that comes along with increased scrutiny.

After scoring at least 20 points in 10 of his first 12 games, he's failed to chip in more than 12 points in any of the past three contests. Also of concern is the fact his other contributionsassists, blocks and stealshave vanished in recent games as well.

ESPN analyst and former Duke star Jay Williams noted Parker's struggles:

For most freshmen around the country talented enough to get on the floor right away, these type of issues wouldn't be considered a big deal. Everybody struggles. But for a player who was so smooth from the opening tip and pushed himself into the No. 1 pick conversation, perfection is expected every time.

That's not possible, of course.

If Parker wants to become a superstar, however, he must come to understand how to handle those expectations and learn to overcome slumps despite the increased pressure with each passing lackluster performance.

Over the past few games, especially in the two following his 12-point outing against Elon, Parker has been noticeably pressing. Again, totally normal for a freshman going through a rough patch, but amplified because of his status as an elite NBA prospect.

He's trying to get people to forget about those subpar games by his standards all at once. Anytime a player tries to do that, they almost always play worse because they are focusing on numerous things at once instead of playing one possession at a time.

Longtime Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who's watched a lot of star players come and go during his time with the program, told Laura Keeley of The News & Observer that the outside pressure and expectations are major factors currently in play:

"People ask me what's wrong with him. What's wrong with him, he's played great this year," Krzyzewski said. "It's unfortunate the way our game is, men's college basketball, puts so much on these young, extremely talented players to produce at a level that they're not ready to produce at. But they will produce at some time in their life, hopefully while they're here.”

To his credit, Parker is trying to view the situation as a learning experience. C.L. Brown of ESPN passed along comments from the rising star, who admitted this is a stretch he'll need to get through as part of his development:

"It's just all in the learning experience," said Parker, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds against the Yellow Jackets. "It's my first time playing at such high competition day in and day out, but it's just something I'm going to learn from and something I'm going to get through."

Parker even implored to the media after the game, "I'm human, I make mistakes."

He's saying the right things, but questions will linger until it translates to success on the court.

As Williams pointed out, one thing he needs to start doing is attacking the rim and drawing fouls to keep defenses, which have been playing much tighter on his jump shots, honest.

The other thing he must adapt to is spending a lot of time in the paint. While he's a natural small forward, he spends a lot of time defending natural post players as Duke attempts to get its best five players on the floor.

It may not seem like a big deal, but that's a lot of extra wear and tear on the body.

Again, all of these adjustmentsbeing more aggressive offensively and handling the defensive workloadare part of the growing process.

The test for Parker is showing he can learn, implement changes to his game and start scoring 20 points per game again. If the struggles return later in the season, he must prove himself capable of going through the same process again and coming out a better all-around player. That's what the best players do.

All told, Parker is a special talent and there's no reason to believe his recent slump will last. Whether he gets back on track in the team's next contest against Clemson or it takes a few more games, a return to form is on the horizon once he gets back in the mindset of being aggressive on every possession.

The process of becoming a superstar is often a roller-coaster ride, as Parker is finding out. As long as he learns from the down periods, he'll reach even greater heights moving forward.