One on one with Jabari Parker

Ever since committing to Duke in January, Chicago area standout Jabari Parker has shied away from the public spotlight and focused exclusively on winning a fourth consecutive state championship. With that goal accomplished, the five star is now ready for All-Star games, and enrolling at Duke. He spoke about all of that and much more in an exclusive interview with TDD.

You recently won a fourth consecutive championship. How's it feel to have that goal accomplished?

Jabari Parker: It feels great because that was one of my main goals coming into my freshman year. I know all the hard work and dedication paid off, and it's great to be remembered for that.

Winning just one championship can be exhausting. What did it take to do it an additional four times?

It took a lot, honestly. All your life you've been a fan of basketball and you admire the guys who paved the way for you in basketball, and you are now a part of history that people can remember you for, it's a great accomplishment.

How do you think that translates to the next phase of your life at Duke, does it relate at all?

It most definitely does. Moving forward, you know what it feels like to be a champion and it just makes you hungry for more and to do bigger things. I loved that feeling and I want to keep having that feeling. Everyone wants a college national championship.

How did you think you handled the balance of being a normal teenager with the celebrity side of being recognized for your talent and accomplishments?

I think I handled it pretty well. I didn't let my ego get in the way of my relationships with people, and I don't look down on anybody I've come across I just try to be as normal as possible because that's who I am.

Physically, are you back to full health after a full season that included rehabilitating your injury?

I feel really great, and very healthy. The main thing is my confidence is back, and my body and my performance has been enhanced. I do think I can improve some more, but I'm happy about how i've progressed so far.

What went into your consideration in deciding to play when you did coming back from the injury?

It was more my adrenaline that got me thinking. The pain I had in the first game, I just wanted to play so bad, I was out five and a half months, so I just wanted to play and I decided to try it. I knew from there that I wasn't in good shape so I knew I needed to go through physical rehab and that's when I took my time and really focused and got back into better shape. I started seeing results and I started getting addicted to rehabbing and getting in better shape, it helped me a lot.

How are your preparing and how will it impact you to play at a much more physical level, and against guys who will be bigger and faster?

I think that can help me a lot, it'll help my smarts and basketball IQ, will help me learn how to better approach the game.

What's your current height, weight and wingspan?

Right now I'm 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, and just under a 7 foot wingspan.

Have you talked with the Duke staff about your ideal playing weight?

They haven't really talked with me about that, it's been much more about playing at a weight that's comfortable for me and that I can last for a long period of time. They are asking me to build endurance, not so much bulking up and adding a ton of extra weight, that's what's happening in my workouts.

With being named to the McDonald's and Jordan games, and receiving lots of accolades/honors, I wanted to ask which accolade means the most to you?

I think being a four-time state champion because when you win, that makes it more open to win individual awards. I love the team game because that's what basketball is, it's a group effort and when you win as a team. That's what I love the most.

How does it feel knowing you are recognized as one of the best players in the McDonald's and Jordan games coming up?

It feels great, to be honest. When I was a kid, I watched the McDonalds game growing up and I always dreamed of having the chance to be on that stage. Now that I have that chance, I never let anything discourage me. I'm looking forward to making my city proud, and hopefully we can win. It'll be great to play in front of my city for the last time, hopefully we do well.

What do you think about the work in the community the players do during McDonald's All American Week?

I really respect a lot and am looking forward to it because I really love kids. I just want to help them, and put a smile on their face. I don't want to make them uncomfortable or anything, and I want to take pictures with them and have that moment with them and their families.

You are matched up against Andrew Wiggins with the McDonald's teams you are on…that seems like a matchup everyone is looking forward to?

I know Andrew is really good. In fact, he's a real exceptional player, and the opportunity to compete against him gives me a different look by going up a different kind of player. Of course I know it helps with ratings too, and I'm cool that they put it together. I don't want to take it personal, all that matters is that we win the game.

Obviously, you two have traded the No. 1 overall ranking this year. Does that factor into your mindset?

Well, he can take it, I don't care. He can be the #1 player. At the end of the day all that matters to me is being considered in the Top 50 players of all time. Anything right now is fine with me, because I just want to work hard and get better and do well in the future.

When he took over as No. 1, he had reclassified and you were injured. How did you react?

Honestly, I let it get to me at first, but then I talked to myself and I told myself I know how good I am, and I know what I need to get better on as a player. People will always judge you, so I just went with the flow and I didn't let it bother me because I have a passion for the game. When you focus on individual accolades and what people say about you, both praise and criticism, it really stops being fun anymore.

So what was it that got you from letting it bother you to moving to your current mindset?

It really comes through maturity, I think. When I was out with my injury I had time to think about things better, and to think about what was really important. You are your own worst critic in my eyes and I know what I need to do, I can't let praise or criticism get to my head.

Going into Duke, how do you try and define your role with the team?

I just want to be a good example because being a good leader. When you work hard and have a good attitude, I think that brings good leadership and relationships end up causing positive things to happen. If I have a stronger bond with my guys, we can do good things.

How do you build the credibility with your teammates as a freshman?

It starts off the court. We become friends first, and then we get to practice and you work hard. There you show you are dedicated, you show your work ethic and what you can do for the team. That's how you form relationships.

How much interaction have you had with Duke players?

I've talked with the two freshman, Rasheed and Amile Jefferson. Those two, we've been playing against each and knowing each other for quite some time. That's the only relationships I have with guys personally right now. I've talked with them from time to time this year. We've talked about going to Duke, ups and downs of freshman season and what comes with it. They are getting into the swing of things real well, they are giving me a taste of it.

Duke is a program known for defense, what are your thoughts on what it means to play 'Duke defense'?

Defense wins championships, period. When we get to do that we can win a lot of games and go far in the NCAA, I just want to do my part and help the team win.

How do you feel about being asked to guard a variety of positions on the court?

I feel real good. I'm confident, and I think I can improve of course, but playing with older guys during the summer can help me in my journey with that.

You mentioned the Duke "history" as a part of your decision--can you elaborate?

Yeah, that mainly meant I like them now. Oddly enough, I actually grew up not liking Duke at all. My brother did, but I was a Carolina guy. It was so weird because I never thought I'd be going to Duke when I was younger.

When did the feelings change for you then?

When I started getting familiar with the program. I always thought Duke was meant only for more educated guys who were from better backgrounds, but when I saw guys like Quinn Cook, other guys from Africa like Luol Deng prove that they belonged, I saw a personality that Duke accepts all kinds of people. When I got comfortable with that, and when I talked with Coach K, I got much more comfortable with that and that's when I decided to be there.

Your mom mentioned Duke "tailored" a lot of their presentation to you--what stood out to you in your personal interactions with Coach K?

I felt his passion. It's easy for a guy who has been so successful like Coach to not care as much, but I felt his energy even though he's been in the game for a long time and he's still hungry for more. I really loved that.

How he has talked about how he wishes to develop you as a person and player?

He just gives me examples of highs and lows of guys that he's coached and how they dealt with adversity and how they formed into the players they are today. I really fed off that as a player.

How do you feel about being under his tutelage?

I get to be coached by one of the greatest of all time, it's humbling to say that. Coach is someone who has done a big amount, someone who has much more knowledge than I do, and it's going to help me become a better player and man.

It seems as though you may be the focal point of the offense if the presentations are to be believed. What are your thoughts there?

The responsibility will help me prepare for bigger stages in my life, and it'll help me become a better basketball player. I'm really looking forward to the work I'm going to do there.

I wanted to follow up on the conversations regarding your jersey selection. Have you given the idea any more thought?

Yes, I've made a decision, and I will not be wearing number 22. It was in the air, but it would be so selfish of me to take something like that from a guy like Jay Williams. Someone who built his own legacy, worked hard, and helped that program shine even more. For me to come in as a freshman, not knowing the significance of it, I felt like it would tarnish what his legacy is and how good it was, especially since his was stopped short by the accident. It was unfortunate he couldn't have a long career.

So what number are you planning on wearing?

I haven't decided yet. I want to pick one that will motivate me in college. I haven't talked with Coach K and Jay yet about the number, but I have told Coach Capel.

How long have you been talking with Coach Capel?

I've been talking with him a lot, probably the most out of any of the coaching staff.

Relationship wise, where have you and coach Capel found common ground?

I think our love for music is a starting point. We both like old school, soul, R&B, especially for hip hop--we both have a good knowledge of hip hop, he gives me a lot of good quotes with that.

Do you share in common favorite musicians?

Yes we do, our favorite musician is Jay-Z.

What's your thoughts on all the trappings of Duke--the travel, the big games on television, all that comes with being a Duke player in the public eye?

I think that will help me mentally become stronger to face adversity, I think it can help me become more mature and how to handle that stuff.

A lot of Duke fans think you could be a face of the Duke program the ways guys like Shane Battier and Grant Hill and Jay Williams and Kyrie and Singler and Laettner and other guys were. Is that a lot of pressure?

I see it differently. I don't want to let any of that stuff get in the way of the relationship I'm going to have with my teammates, because I won't ever look at myself in that way.

Have you given any thought to the duration of your stay in Durham? Are you a sure-fire one and done?

Oh no, it's a different consideration after the injury. I'm not going in with a one and done mentality. It's more about when I think I'm ready to take the next step. If there's extra time at Duke, it'll help me mature as a person especially since my number one goals are to get an education and to have fun and enjoy the experience.

What are the considerations for staying or leaving?

It's almost that I'd have to leave because I can't pass up the opportunity, but if I can have the same projection or better the following year and if I'm looking good for building my skill set, then I will stay.

How much does lottery status play into it?

It plays somewhat into it depending on where I'm slated to be. I don't want to leave if I'm like the 20th pick or something lower. That'd be stupid.

How does Coach K factor into that decision making process?

I think he'll help me a lot. He's had guys who have stayed and made great careers and he's also had success dealing with guys who are one and done. I really think he'll help me a lot.

With signing day in April, are you going to have any sort of ceremony?

I'm going to keep it low key, just the people in my inner circle. That way it gives me time to celebrate moving onto the next phase of my life.

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