Lola Paker, mother of Jabari Parker: I thought Jabari did well. They were struggling with their team offense a bit because it different not hearing Coach Smith during the game. But, a win is a win, you know. At the end of the day it's about getting the result. Our guys are battle tested and I think that helped out as we shut down Okafor. That was a big deal to us. Russell, Okafor and Jabari all play together in AAU, so they know each other. It was helpful that Russell didn't get in foul trouble, he played a good game against Okafor. Our practices helped us because our practices at Simeon are like college practices because they are structured, organized and for a month at the start, they will just run and run for an hour and a half, non stop, just to get ready, no touching of the basketball, just conditioning for a whole month before they even touch a basketball. They are all seniors and you can't teach toughness.
Jabari is coming back from his injury-can you elaborate on what the consideration was like for him in coming back from a major injury and how he's progressing?
Actually, we had seen three different specialists--the best in the country. Two of them were very cautious and I completely understood where they were coming from because there's a consideration of Jabari being a high profile player. November came around and we had a scan and the doctor said it's not even halfway healed, it's only about 40% healed. Jabari was so disappointed and they said wait until December. Then in December Sonny took Jabari and the doctor said, "Jabari you'll have to wait another month." I completely understood that because he didn't feel good about the scan. I called another doctor, someone that USA Basketball uses and recommends and he was on vacation and he said to bring all of Jabari's records the next day. He said that Jabari should start slowly but that he needed blood flow in the affected area that he wasn't getting just in therapy. This doctor was Michael Jordan's doctor and he treated him the exact same way. He said when he saw Jabari's scan that he was much more healed than Jordan was at the same point. He advised us to start slowly by only playing five minutes a quarter. The very first game, Jabari took the boot off the day before he got on the floor. He hadn't run, he was just doing therapy, but it was just exercising that area, he wasn't running a lot. An hour before the game he said to bring his uniform so he could sit on the bench with his uniform. He felt he needed to be on the floor because it's his senior year and it's important to him. My stomach was twisting and turning because my concern was his weight and could he keep up on the court. He was going to practice and therapy four times a week. In a week and a half he lost 15 pounds.
Was it a source of frustration when he came back that he couldn't do every thing he's capable of because of the fitness level?
He understood it was part of the process. He wanted to be out there with the team. It's more like "I want to go to battle with my brothers, even though i'm not 100%, I want to be a part of the team on the court". I know how the media are -- people can be cruel, and that was my concern with him coming back. I didn't want him to be criticized and Jabari told me that he could care less, he doesn't care about that kind of criticism or praise for that matter, i'm not getting caught up in that. I understood his purpose then.
One of the things you see during Jabari's ESPN games is the discussion of how do Jabari and Andrew Wiggins compare to each other--what are your thoughts on that discussion?
Well, my perspective is as a mom, I would never compare or criticize anybody else's child because that's what I would want for my child. For the people at ESPN to acknowledge my son's gift, whether he's #1 or #2, we don't look at that, we just look at it as a blessing to be acknowledged. We don't get caught up in the competition. People have to do their jobs, that's how I look at it. These ESPN Analysts, that's what they like to do, discuss player strengths and weaknesses.
What we are most proud of is Jabari's skill in his game. His game is like Sonny describes, he's a throwback. The old school players weren't really athletic, the really skilled players lasted awhile longer than just the crazy athletic guys in the NBA in the past. Skill is something we've gotten away from but it still works. I look at Larry Bird, how did this guy who was not athletic but with his skill level could dominate the game. Magic wasn't athletic and yet he's one of the best players ever. Skill is almost like, it's like an art in basketball and these kids are perfecting their craft and if you don't work on your skill at the college level, you'll know, you will start separating the skill player from just the athletic player. Look at Jabari, he plays at around 230-235, he can withhold pounding with that size and he's built strongly because he has Polynesian and African American in his genes.
Has there been any discussion with Coach K and the Duke staff related to Jabari's ideal playing weight at Duke?
There have been, yes. It's between 230-235. WIthout shoes Jabari is 6 ft 8.5, with shoes he's 6 ft 9 or so.
What kind of role are they envisioning for Jabari on the team?
They are planning for him to touch the ball all over the court, and they are saying a lot of the things he does for Simeon, he'll do at Duke. With his vision and passing ability, they will use him in the passing game. Jabari doesn't have to score, but he loves to pass because he's got a high IQ. Just because of his presence, he does so many things. He's going to post up, he'll bring the ball up, you name it, he's going to be asked to do it. That was one of the things very important to me when we were picking the college, I asked the coaches to make sure he wasn't limited because as a part of his development I made sure he went to a challenging high school and that he would be utilized all over the court. Coach K had made that commitment to us that he'll play like that at Duke.
After Jabari decided--it was reported that you played a major role in his decision--from your perspective, what was it about Duke that you felt strongly about during the process?
Coach K had a plan for Jabari and he came prepared to talk about that with Jabari and with us. Every tough question that we had for him, he answered them very well and he told us exactly where Jabari would be and what he would be doing at Duke.
He said that with Jabari's talent I don't have to worry, because he's a coaches dream to have a skill player like Jabari. Coach K didn't say specifically, but he's getting close to retirement, but he didn't say number of years or anything, it's more that he's in his 60s and he did not say how many years, but you can tell, the man is 63, but he did say, "Jabari has made me", and "I have a different drive to coach somebody like Jabari". He's excited about getting to coach somebody like him.
Did he share anything about how he felt he could help Jabari develop?
The other thing I was impressed with was on his home visit, he was the only coach who didn't sit down. He was up the whole time talking with Jabari about how to stand, how to place his feet, stuff like that. He was up, it was like he was coaching one of his players. He was up several times and he stood up like a man with Jabari, describing step by step how Jabari's body position would be utilized and would teach him things about the game. None of the other coaches did that and I mean, we thought...this is a legend. We as Jabari's parents didn't tell Jabari to look at this or that because we didn't show any favoritism. Jabari told us where he was going an hour before he made his announcement.
When did it shift for you from not showing any favoritism towards any school to you really liking what Duke was saying to you guys?
I had to keep it all within because I wanted to hold it in unless Jabari wanted to talk and had questions. The only thing I said to him was his education was the most important thing to us and it would be nice to pick a prestigious school. I told him, Stanford or Duke, they are prestigious schools and him and I didn't get into basketball, we left that alone, which was difficult. My insight, me and Sonny was that we weren't going to interfere because we wanted him to be sure and to really think about where he wanted to go. He really prayed about it, I told him we would support him wherever he would go.
What kind of questions did Jabari have about Duke as the recruiting process unfolded?
Jabari has a step brother who is a Chicago Police Officer and he picks Jabari up sometimes and works him out time to time. He shared with me that he asked Jabari, so how are you doing with your decision and Jabari indicated it's so difficult. My stepson's question then to him was, "If you had to pick your dream coach--who would it be and why ?" Jabari told him, "it would be Coach Wooden, because he always had a lot of wisdom." So then my stepson said, "Ok, well he's not here, who else, who would be next ?" At that point, Jabari said, "Probably Coach K because it's Coach K, he's the next closest thing to Coach Wooden in my eyes with what he's accomplished." You want a place with a Hall of Fame Coach, Duke is the place with Coach K, there you go. If you want to be taught the game, increase your knowledge and wisdom, he's the answer. Jabari just put a list together of different criteria and I think he was impressed that a lot of Duke guys have really high character. Former players who were there, they just have a lot of class about their program and that was something he mentioned.
How have the interactions been with Coach K since the commitment?
Coach K texts us about once or twice a week, that was pretty much what he did before, that hasn't changed. He still sends hand written letters to Jabari, they are very inspirational stuff to Jabari.
Can you share what Coach K talks about in those letters?
It's mostly stuff about staying focused, how impressed he is with Jabari's character, they are mostly compliments. He'll say if he watched Jabari on ESPN and he'll write something about the game to Jabari. It's a very nice collection, he's written personally to Sonny, myself and Jabari, I have a large group of letters that we will treasure because they are very personable. It's really good stuff. The education he's going to receive from Duke is pretty incredible too.
Have they laid out an academic plan yet for Jabari?
Yep, absolutely, he will graduate in 7 years from when he starts at Duke. Jabari hasn't picked his degree program yet, we do know he's going to take a lot of finance classes his freshman year, they will accommodate him in still playing Team USA and still do summer school. It's a load for sure, he'll be at Duke for a summer session.
You've talked about the importance of how they would structure day to day life for Jabari at Duke--did you see what you were hoping for with that when you visited Duke?
You know, it was perfect. It's like anything, if people had done homework on you, they will know what you are looking for, what your needs might be and Duke is a small school, just 6000 undergrad kids, it's a very small school with another 6000 in graduate school. Jabari will still have a lot of privacy and everything is nearby, he'll have close access to everything, classes are close, classrooms are small, they just personalize everything and i'll be helping in picking out his classes. They won't be typical freshman classes, he'll do some finance, accounting, broadcasting, those types of classes.
Are you setting up that kind of rigorous academic program right away because the expectation going in is for Jabari to be a one and done player?
No, I did that when he went to Simeon. He took honors courses his freshman year. I'm very hands on with what he takes and I know what is challenging and what isn't. I remember Jabari taking a History course and I remember insisting he take an AP History class. It'll be the same thing when he goes to Duke, he's going to be in tough classes where he's really going to use his brain and be challenged academically. Definitely not easy stuff.
Is Jabari coming in with any college credits already completed through his AP Courses?
You know, I'm not sure. Sonny keeps up more with his stuff like that. I'm not sure which ones will be transferable to Duke, they are a different kind of program. I'm not too worried about that because i've had lengthy conversations with the Team's Academic Leader, he travels with the team, provides support and getting me the different info on classes that Jabari will be taking.
For you and Sonny--what was the favorite part of the visit to Duke?
I think for me, this was my third visit there, I had visited there before when Jabari was a sophomore or junior, probably his junior year. I think this time it was, for me, it was going to Coach K's house, we went to dinner there and to see the other side of him and his wife and to see they were just real people and wanting to just be normal like everybody else. That was the side I wanted to see, the real, human side of this coach that you watch on TV and sit around and tell jokes with guys on the team and laugh and just to see his home, he has so many grandkids -- it's very homey. It was so comfortable and friendly with everybody there. I was so impressed with the kids just being able to come there from the team, it was so comfortable. At first, I thought, we're going to go to this fancy place and it was very homey and comfortable, I think it's because he has so many grandkids, their home was so comfortable and kid friendly.
Coming out of that visit, did you feel like Duke was moving ahead or were you still on guard because there were other visits still to come?
We were still guarded just because we wanted to keep our bargain between Sonny and I that we would not get involved, we wanted Jabari to speak about it and feel free to feel his own way about the school and the program. Jabari is a funny kid because he'll always say, "it's ok" to everything, even if he wins an award, he'll be like, "it was ok". I think that's Jabari's way of appreciating all the programs. He would never say anything bad about programs and I would joke with him and get frustrated, "isn't there anything bad you can say, are you sure ?" It's his personality to make the most of every situation.
Jabari mentioned he was "relieved" when he announced for Duke--how do you think he's feeling now that he's on the other side of announcing?
I think Jabari really is relieved, and that's a good word. He can just focus on the team and not have the distraction of schools calling, texting. He feels very relieved. A commitment to us is a bond, our word has to mean something. Sonny told Jabari that once you make a commitment, that's it because our word is our bond and you will honor that commitment, there's no changing our mind. Sonny said that's one thing wrong with this generation, they don't understand commitment with so many of them de-committing. So Sonny was very strict about that, he told Jabari when you make your commitment, it's a bond between you and that school, there's no de-committing.
One of the trends with high profile players we've seen a couple times is late signees in the spring will only sign scholarship papers to a school and not sign the NLI. Where does Jabari stand with that when his signing period comes up in April?
Jabari is going to sign in April for sure. He's going to sign everything. If Jabari could have signed in December when he made his commitment he would have, but he unfortunately missed the deadline in November to sign those papers. He'll be signing everything though in April.
You mentioned Jabari told you and Sonny an hour before his announcement that he was going to Duke--can you share how you and Sonny felt at that moment?
You know, it was fine with me, and it was more of a relief. I had left the locker room for a minute, and I had come to the gym to make sure that some guests of ours were able to get a good seat, so I was out of the room for a few minutes. Jabari was just kinda sitting back in his coaches chair and Sonny was standing by the doorway. There was a filing cabinet there and Sonny was leaning on that and it was really emotional for Dad. He cried because he was so proud of Jabari, that we're in this position that he can go get a free education. That's how we look at it, it's $55,000 dollars a year to go to Duke, that's a huge load, you know? As parents, to be able to go get this caliber of education and have somebody else pay for it, we're just grateful as parents and that's how we look at it. It was real emotional for Sonny at that time.
Did that emotion you guys felt transfer into the after announcement phone calls with Coach K?
Actually I didn't call Coach K, Jabari did. Coach K had called me but I was busy at the school afterwords because there were so many media members there and I was talking with them for quite some time afterwords. I think that was what I was overwhelmed with, there were so many people there. We didn't get out of there until just after 3 hours later afterwords. I noticed Coach K had called me, so I called him on the drive home in the car. I knew that Jabari had stepped out to call Coach K. Coach K told me Welcome to the Duke Family and we thanked him, appreciated his time, just being there for Jabari during the process in answering all his questions. That's pretty much what happened.
Has there been any jersey number discussions with the Duke staff related to Jabari yet?
Yes, he can wear #22.
Wow, that's Jay Williams retired jersey number, did Jabari ask for that?
Actually not at all. In a general conversation, Coach K told Jabari that you can wear Jason Williams's old number. Jabari told him "absolutely not Coach, that's disrespectful, that's Jason Williams number and that number is retired". Coach K said, when we visited Duke, Jason was there, he told Coach K that only a high profile player could wear my jersey number, so, who is it? Coach K said, "Jabari Parker" and Jason said, "without a doubt." Jabari still thinks it's disrespectful. We will see what happens but Jason has already given permission. Jabari just doesn't know yet, just the fact that it's been offered is big.
Has Jabari reached out to any of his future Duke teammates?
You know, i'm not sure, he definitely got a lot of their numbers through his visit. He does have some of the guys on the team, but i'm not sure who.