Raising a superstar: Jabari Parker

Ever curious about what goes into parenting the #1 player in the country through all the ups and downs of the media and recruiting attention? For Jabari Parker it's no secret that his parents have played an active role in helping him navigate through the recruiting process. TDD's Steve Clark sat down with Mr. & Mrs. Parker to discuss the evolution of Jabari the person as well as the player.

One on one with Lola Parker:

TDD: When did Jabari first start playing basketball, and when did you know that he had a special talent?

He started playing when he was five years old, but I knew he had a special gift when he was seven. At seven he was playing with kids who were 10 years old, but it wasn't that he was quicker or stronger or faster than those kids…he was beating them because of fundamentals. His skill level helped him beat those guys. I got the opportunity to see this because I would travel with him early on to the games. Sonny, Jabari's father, was working a lot - he had a foundation he was running- so I was the one who had the opportunity to see Jabari start to dominate as he played against older kids.

We have three other kids who are older than Jabari, so Sonny and I would divide up responsibilities because all the kids had different activities. Dad's role was to keep everything realistic with Jabari and myself. Watching Jabari play…he would do a lot of things on the court, so we learned to make sure that with whatever team Jabari would play on - we didn't want him to just be a center- we wanted him to do a variety of things on the court so I would tell the coaches if he's not involved in the flow of the game as something other than just having him standing as a center, then you won't see us on the team the next day. We wanted to play an active role in our son's development and we knew that he was not going to just play center. We didn't want coaches to limit his talent-we wanted him to play all five positions, not just one.

Can you describe what your parenting philosophy was like with Jabari?

I come from a very blue collar family, so gratitude was something very important to me growing up. I grew up in a large family with a total of 15 kids in my family including seven that were adopted by my mom and dad. Because of that, everybody knew it was about timing. You each had two or three minutes minutes in the shower, and everybody was in an assembly line for meals. Everything had to be organized and we knew that we had to help each other.

I shared my childhood experiences with my kids about being grateful and about not looking at what other kids had and coveting those things. the values we tried to instill in all our kids is to appreciate what you have right now and to treat others with respect. We didn't just teach our children through our words, we taught them through our actions. Words can be very cheap. How are your kids going to know your words are really real of they don't line up with your actions? Trying to instill in our kids the values to do right to others was something we did everyday.

Jabari has mentioned that a big influence on him becoming a Mormon was because of your influence. Can you share how you influenced him in that way?

Religion can give you structure and guidelines and, for me, it was always very normal and basic. I'd get the kids up every Sunday and it didn't matter what we had going on, we'd go to church every Sunday. It reminded me of what's really important because the world we live in today has shifting values and my faith has really sustained and molded what I have sought to teach our kids. I never forced it on my kids. I always wanted them to decide for themselves and to be free to make their own choices and to have their own testimony. Jabari's faith is really who he is. He believes that having good character is very important.

Going back to Jabari's siblings, has he always been the quiet one of the four?

He's always been a mild-mannered kid. There's eight years difference between our oldest son and Jabari being the youngest child, and then there are two girls in the middle so there's always been that aspect that Jabari is the baby of that group and he's cared for by his brothers and sisters. He was spoiled big time by his whole family. You would think though that having that love would shape his personality and make him more spoiled, but it has been the opposite. Especially since he's got a little fame right now. With his siblings he was what they always hoped to have, so when he came home he was loved unconditionally but he isn't entitled in any means.

It's interesting to see the parallels between how his siblings feel about him to how he's perceived now as a player. Dow do you as parents handle him being somebody that everybody wants something from him because of his talent?

All that stuff really doesn't faze us because we just value people. I'm very up front with what I want with Jabari's development and that includes the college coaches recruiting him. I have to catch myself sometimes because I am very up front with the coaches about Jabari because, like anybody, people have egos and I don't like people with big egos, so I'll check them sometimes because I want them to understand that Jabari is our prized possession. We understand that coaches have millions of dollars, and we understand they've won lots of games and championships, but none of that really matters to us in this process as parents. What matters most to us is Jabari's happiness and what is the best situation for him. Everything else I could really care less about.

What's some examples of things you discuss with the coaches?

I'll be really honest with you, a lot of them sound like used car salesman. I can weed out what's real versus what's not. The coaches who are selling me the hoopla, the trainers, the nutrition, and everything just about the university like the fan club, the crowd, and that kind of stuff just really doesn't matter to me one bit. We raised Jabari to respect this game and play it the right way so he can play anywhere. Because of that, the kind of stuff I mentioned really doesn't matter to him or us. He knows that you can remain who you are and be comfortable with yourself and to worry about comparing himself to other people and what they have.

A lot of coaches will try to tell me that Jabari can be this or that but every year the NBA Draft has kids that are the best freshman that year. Why is that? It's because those kids were they were all good enough before they went to college to play in the NBA that year. It didn't just take those kids eight months to become great once they got to college. Here you see where coaches want to take the credit by saying "Oh we developed this kid and that kid who went one and done", but our thing that we recognize is that those kids were always good. Because we know that we really believe that coaches shouldn't try to sell themselves as the sole reason why kids with that ability made it to the draft after one year. The kids are the ones who make the program the last time I checked.

What do coaches say to you then that you would count as "real" then? Any examples of things that coaches have said that you really respected?

Absolutely, but I can't share any names because that's not who we are. Going back to what I said before, when a coach talks about the glamour by saying "Oh we are going to be playing on national television", talking about "all our NBA alumni", or "all our games are sold out" are things you automatically recognize. None of that tells me stuff that we don't already know because we do our homework.

We'd rather a coach talk with us about stuff that's really important. Stuff like how are you going to make sure that Jabari has privacy and how are you going to protect him security wise. Things like that are the important conversations that we have with coaches because we care about Jabari and want what's best for him.

You've indicated previously how you expect things to be handled with the media as well with the contact rules. Is that an extension of how you handle the interactions between the college coaches and Jabari?

To a certain extent. We are very grateful for the media because they have written wonderful things about Jabari. Now, there are limitations because like recently when we shut down the media, it was the end of the school year and if we didn't do that so that Jabari could finish strong-he wouldn't have a 4.0 GPA. We shut it down because with pushing to handle the travel schedule of AAU and all the last minute school stuff it'd be too difficult to set up appointment after appointment with the media while trying to to finish his schoolwork.

The other thing is with Team USA. Now that it's summertime, how is he going to be able to focus on his goals with Team USA? He loves being a part of it, but how could he focus on that if he's doing media stuff all the time? We will sit down with him regularly and ask him "what do you think you can handle", and "what do you think you want to do or not want to do"? We want him to be making the decisions on stuff like this because it's his life-but we do enforce those decisions.

As a parent-how do you handle raising him to make his own choices knowing that very soon he's going to be out on his own as a grown man? Is that a difficult process?

The thing is…we feel very confident that we have raised Jabari to make the best choices for himself regardless of the situation? At the same time we are a family of communicators and I'm not saying we are perfect, but Jabari consults with us on everything because we let him breathe and come to us. For example, when he travels, he's gone and we don't blow him up on his phone or text him a ton. When he reaches out to us it's because he needs us and when he makes decisions he makes them knowing what our wishes are as parents. That's a big reason why we sit down once a week and discuss what's going on.

He gets a ton of mail when he's traveling, so we'll ask him if he wants us to open it for him? He'll tell us, "Mom, Dad, I haven't opened the mail in five months. You guys do that."

We give him the room to make decisions because, after all, that's how you grow. That's the way it is going to be with his college choice. We won't tell him what school to go to. All we've done is to encourage him to do is to do his homework. Is that school's style going to the best fit for you? Did you look and see who you are going to play with at different schools? Did you ask the coach about his plan for you.?

What do you believe the Team USA has added to Jabari as a person?

Well, it's taken him into a different mind frame because he has represented his country now. You get to see the world. That itself is such a blessing because he's gotten to see other countries and parts of the world. For Jabari, he loves reading history. Before he tried out, he went and read about all the history of former team USA players. He would research what countries we going to play in next and he would analyze who they'd be playing. Before they watched film he would write down who the other teams best player was and would ask to guard them. He was always concerned with where he could play where he could help the team and he would tell the coach his thoughts on where he could play to best help the team win.

Are those habits a reflection of Sonny's experiences?

Absolutely. Being a former player himself, his dad always encouraged Jabari to be a student of the game of former players. Where they were from, what their stats were, what schools they went to, and what round they went in the Draft.

He would tell Jabari that everybody wants to talk about a success story, but nobody wants to talk about what got a player to that point. That's the information that would change the viewpoint of a lot of kids if they really thought about what goes into those success stories that they all look at. They would see it differently if they learned the struggles those guys went through.

A funny story we have with that is when Jabari met LeBron James when LeBron was a senior in high school. Everybody was pulling on LeBron, and they all wanted a piece of him, but Jabari wasn't sure he wanted to talk with him because he didn't want to bother him...and that was at 8 years old. He cared about LeBron's feelings because LeBron had two bodyguards with him and Jabari wasn't sure he wanted to bother him because of that. We had to tell him it was ok.

Jabari is in a similar place that LeBron is in in that everybody wants a piece of him because of his talent. So, how do you think Jabari handles being in that world that he inhabits with all the attention?

I see it differently because I want Jabari to do well in school. I look at it more about how he's going to get to classes when he goes to college. I like the structure because he won't tell 50 people waiting for an autograph no because he is grateful to his fans. So we focus on wanting him to achieve his academic goals. We just recognize that it's easy to lose focus on what really matters in life-so we wok hard to stay focused.

Most kids who have an academic focus who play college sports go with the intention of being therefor four years. Jabari's got a similar academic focus but the reality is that his talent could enable him to go pro in a year or two. How do you handle that?

I think we'd make that a part of his NBA contract. That he will go to school and have the team support that because of how valuable and important education is. He wants to show kids that you can play ball and get your education. It goes back to structure. Because what are you going to do after practice? Are you just gonna take naps all the time or play video games or are you going to use those hours to take more college courses? Before you know it-the credits are accumulating and it's time to graduate. Time is valuable. We want kids to know that just because If Jabari were to leave college early-it doesn't mean that his school gets put on hold-it just means he'll work even harder to do great at basketball and get his degree.

In closing, what are the things you are looking at with the coaches recruiting Jabari? What about those gentlemen will click and let you know that's the coach for your son at the next level?

I would think he'd be a man of character. We'd look at the relationship with the coach and that they will treat Jabari the same as the rest of the kids. We always focus on what's important, so in no way do we want to communicate to Jabari's teammates that he's better then them, or that he's entitled to special treatment that they don't get. Yell at him just like you yell at his teammates. We want those simple values to continue to be reinforced to Jabari.

One on one with Sonny Parker

When it comes to parenting Jabari, what's been your general approach on and off the court?

We looked first at ethics of the game. How you treat your teammates, your coaches, and the fans. He's a throwback and he understands the history of the game because I exposed him to different places where basketball was played. He played a lot outside the city, and he even had a playbook when he was in third grade. Once he got older and he got bigger and more athletic and his muscles started twitching, you started seeing his ability.

Was the decision to have Jabari play with older guys at a young age born out of seeing his athletic gifts, or was it for competitive development reasons?

It was both, but we wanted to balance it. He played on multiple teams for different reasons. He played with older guys on Tavel teams who had heir girlfriends and stuff so Jabari would go do other stuff like going to the museum or the zoo to see the tigers. We had to monitor his relationships with older guys because when he was 14, being the first varsity starter at his high school at that age along with the juniors and seniors was big for his development.

How does your experience as a professional athlete factor into all of this?

Jabari likes to watch the old school basketball, so I'll ask him a lot about old school players. For instance, I asked him "you know who Earl the Pearl Monroe is" which helps him be a throwback. We talk a lot about the history of the game and guys who came before us so that we can talk about the game itself and how to play it the right way. That's what separates him because how can you know where you are going as a player if you don't know where you have been? He's a sponge. I'd take him around and show him how guys played. Not just how they scored, but how they played.

I believe he could score 40 or 50 every night but he's always like "Dad, we won the game and that's all that matters". He doesn't like to lose. I see guys trying to compare him to LeBron or Kobe or other players, and my thing is he's a whole different person because of his demeanor. He's also got a tolerance for pain. He just plays through it with no excuses and he respects the game.

Having travelled yourself as a pro athlete, how do you see the travel Jabari is doing benefitting him?

He enjoys it because it helps him see different things. We were in Cancun last year and he was like "Dad, I didn't realize how poor people are here". He just called from Lithuania last night and he said tomorrow they have an off day so he's going with some guys to an orphanage. He's already different because I just traveled regionally and locally whereas he's gone internationally. He's got an appreciation for that.

Has it been a conscious decision with you and Mrs Parker to not travel as much with Jabari?

We've tried to let him be himself and a lot of it has been based on work schedules and the like. She got to go out with him to Vegas one time and I went to the Springfield Hall of Fame in Massachusetts. Now that he's getting closer to making his college choice, we'll be traveling with him a lot more because we are careful about who he associates himself with. The people that are around Jabari…they are good people so we don't worry about that because he's a good kid and has good people around him when he travels. We are looking to traveling to different events with him to experience a little more what he's going through.

Like where?

I'll have to ask him how he feels but we might go to Vegas or Peach Jam and probably the ESPY awards in LA because we have to be there as his parents to chaperone him. We are planning on probably going with him on his official visits because we have questions we want answered, and we want to have the knowledge about schools and their programs so that we are not surprised once he knows where he wants to go.

On that note, how have the relationships with the coaches been developing?

It's cordial. I've been on both sides being a player and getting recruited and being a pro athlete and I've met the coaches so i'm comfortable with them. With my wife, she's pretty stern because she has the plan and she wants to hear from the coaches how that plan is going to be upheld. Whatever school he goes to, the plan is for him to graduate. Wherever he goes we need to know about summer school, online classes, and whatever it takes because he will continue to be a good student when he goes to college and he will graduate no matter if he goes pro early. That's not the secondary plan for him to graduate. It's the first plan.

Did Jabari always have on his own that drive to enjoy and do well in school?

Yeah, he loves school but at our home our required GPA is height than what is needed to stay eligible to play at school, so we always make sure that no matter where he is that he stays on top of his academic requirements. Like when he was in New York for Good Morning America he didn't want him to go because he was going to miss a major test. He talked with the principal of his school who told him it would be OK for him to make up the test so he could do the show. He hates missing class that much. Having that attitude has put him in place to go to whatever college he wants to go to. It started even before he got to Simeon as well. He went to a really good Magnet school growing up so he had that foundation going into Simeon.

As a father, how do you feel Jabari is doing all the attention that is coming his way?

I'm very proud because al the hard work and dedication is paying off, but at the same time he appreciates the rankings but he still wants to be known as the best player ever. He knows that he has that target that everybody is coming after him but he'll tell me that he's going after guys too because he knows guys are trying to make a name for themselves. He doesn't shy away from the competition in anyway.

Father to son, what do you tell Jabari to pay close attention to when evaluating colleges and coaches?

What kind of character do the kids and coaches in the programs have. What kind of relationships do you have with them. I was fortunate to have great connections with all my coaches from high school to the pros and those guys are still life long connections because of our relationships. Everybody just wants to talk about basketball, but what about life? That's important too. He's going to spend a lot of time away from home and those are the things we talk with him about. It's all about the relationships with the coaches and things like that.

With the new phone rules increasing the potential contact between players and coaches, how do you handle the interactions with the coaches?

Our rules have never changed. Jabari is a minor so we want to make sure we know everything that they are saying to him. That's why we don't want coaches calling him, just us. If he wants to talk with Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Izzo, Coach Calipari, Coach Pitino, or whoever, we'll get him on the phone but he's at that age where he is respectful of all the coaches and them offering I'm scholarships.

We don't mind using caller ID on our phones, and now that coaches can text, we try to be honest with the coaches because we know it's their livelihood, but we as parents have to do what's best for our son. The majority of the coaches have been nice because they understand how we are approaching this whole process.

As a student of the game yourself, what's it like interacting with the coaches who share in that same love of the game?

We talk about it some for sure because they want to sell their school by telling us about their program, the players they've had, and where they are now. Me and wife though we've already done our homework too so we already know about past players they've had. We've already got info on how many guys they have put in the pros at Jabari's position, so we like to hear about how many guys they have graduated, what their players are doing in post basketball lives, and that kind of thing.

What kind of questions do you ask of the coaches then since you obviously have done your homework?

We want to know where Jabari fits in your program. Some schools are like "Yeah, so and so was the top pick when he got drafted", and that kind of thing. Our response is "that's great, but where does Jabari fit with all that?" We are impressed because we know about former players they've had and what they've done, but we just want to know how Jabari fits in and what they can do with him and how he fits in.

Who do you talk to independent of college teams as you are doing your homework on schools?

We talk within ourselves and with a few people we've known for a long time. Former teammates of mine like Curtis Townsendand Lorenzo Romar are two examples. I played with those guys and then, through my foundation, I've had kids who have gone to college so we have relationships there. Those relationships are such that I can learn about other schools from their knowledge. We follow our instincts and we challenge the coaches when we feel like we need to. In recruiting oftentimes everything is fine but then when you get to the school it all changes so we are are staying up on what we need to know.

In the basketball world you see a lot of agendas at work, how do you separate truth from agenda or lies that people share info from?

Yeah that's the hard part because you have have to separate fact from fiction. We've just gotten a sense from a lot of people as we have talked with them that it is a process that's taken a lot of interactions with coaches and other people. That's why it is so hard for new coaches trying to come in because most of the schools he's considering have been talking with us for two or three years. That means it'll be hard for schools to come in late

We have all been watching the last three or four years to see how the difference schools have done in the season, how they have done in the NCAA Tournament, and how many guys they sent to the draft. We are going to wait to talk with Jabari about what schools he is really interested in until after the summers is over. Then we can figure out visits and what he wants to do. If he's not comfortable in the Fall when it comes to a decision, then we can wait until the Spring. There's no pressure in our mind to make a decision in the Fall if Jabari doesn't feel like he has everything he needs to know.

Everybody wants to know who his Top 5 is and we don't even know that because he doesn't know that yet. He's thinking a lot more seriously about evaluating colleges but he's thinking so much about Team USA that he's focusing on that right now.

Rumors are a dime a dozen when it comes to high profile recruitments like Jabari's. How do you deal with so the number of rumors out there?

We understand how the media works because we can't control what other people will say. For example, with the new phone number deal for Jabari, there lots of rumors as to why it was done, but the truth is that it was just something that we all wanted.

Does the need to address each rumor that pops up both you?

It's almost like you have to explain yourself. People ask "Did you say this or say that", but we understand it's the process. Jabari doesn't do the Internet much, but as a parent I'm learning to deal more and more with the whole "this person said this or this person said that" approach when it comes to Jabari.

Does that apply with the recent deal that was out there that you do not like to fly, and that has a big impact on Jabari's recruitment?

That one was real funny to me because playing in the NBA, you practically live in the airport. I don't like to travel a lot because I have several young teams that I coach on the weekends, and we play a lot in camps and tournaments locally or regionally. That commitment takes up a lot of my time, and I also mentor or do private workouts for several kids so my schedule doesn't permit me to travel a lot.

I don't know where the rumor came from when it comes to traveling though. Usually it's my wife who is at Jabari's games instead of me. I just have a busy weekend schedule with my foundation.

Switching back to Team USA, do you have a chance to build relationships with the other players and their families?

A lot of it depends on timing there. My wife got to know one of the Memphis players' mom, and we also stay touch with his teammates like Kendrick Nunn, and Jahlil Okafor, and their folks.

As a parent-how do you fight the urge to totally be in control as you see him making his own choices?

Just stay humble and grounded. He'll tell us to not get all caught up in the hoopla. We respect him because as parents the formula has worked for us to raise him the right way. We try very hard to not get caught up in all the attention. It's like Jabari said, "Basketball is what I do, but it's not who I am". The media attention - some of it is good, like the Sports Illustrated article, the Good Morning America show, and articles like what we are doing because he gets to show people who he is as a person and who we are as a family. We have to be careful though.

I'm curious…how did the Good Morning America piece come to be an opportunity for Jabari?

It had something to do with with Jeff Benedict. He did the SI piece and he's a Mormon too, so he knew some people and he's done stuff with Katie Couric before, so he got stuff lined up with the GMA people. It was similar to how he got the cover of Sports Illustrated for Jabari.

Were you or your family surprised when Jabari got the cover of SportsIllustrated?

Jabari didn't know that it was going to be on the cover. Again, it was just timing. When we got the word that it was going to be a cover story…it was just unbelievable because as a junior we didn't think he would be on the cover. He got to talk about the things important to him in the article as well, but on the whole it was a humbling experience.

The Devils Den Top Stories