Jabari Parker is an intelligent, thoughtful, caring and at times fun-loving young man. Of course, few get to know him away from basketball. As the #1 player in the 2013 class in the country, Parker has minimal time to himself, and even less to have fun with friends his age apart from his teammates.
Media hound him constantly by phone, email and other social media requesting interviews, trying to get a scoop on where the young prodigy will play his college ball before entering the NBA. Whatever fun it might be to have all that attention, it wears off rapidly as the monotony and constant pressure set in.
Parker has pat answers to every imaginable question due to the repetitiveness of the endeavor. Even when he points out the positives in having media interested in him, it sounds practiced. It is probably sincere, but he has said everything literally hundreds of times.
"The media has been part of my success. Without them, I might not be in the situation I am now. It's just gonna get worse from now on, so I have to take it as a positive every time I go through it."
Even when the first reporter to ever interview him prior to his freshman year of high school asks questions about him as a person apart from basketball, he repeats a familiar mantra.
"I just like relaxing. Basketball is what I do every day, so the time I get, I make sure I get enough rest and sleep, and get time for my family."
People see Parker performing exceptionally on the basketball floor and follow his numerous successes. They don't realize his fame is also a burden. He is under constant pressure to perform, constant pressure to win and constant pressure to feed the whims of everyone who approaches him. Life can be tough for a 17 year old kid.
"Yeah, it's pretty frustrating."
Every game, every season, people demand more from the 6'-8", 210 pounder. He prefers a team game and performed his role well his freshman year at Chicago Simeon. He needed to take on more of a scoring role as a sophomore, and he had to both lead and score as a junior. He is under tremendous pressure to keep getting better and better. So far at least, he has responded well to the challenge.
"That's part of my development. Scoring in situations where things are tough, and being deceptive, being dangerous on the offensive end as well as the defensive end."
Parker also faces a litany of defenders all hoping to put a big notch in their belts for taking down the champ. They will do anything, legal or not, to slow him down or stop him. Fortunately, Parker has the tools to counter most defenses.
"It's pretty fun; I like the challenge. I've got to bring my 'A' game. I can't go down to the level of competition."
He led Chicago Simeon to its third straight big school state championship in March. He defers to his teammates when describing their success.
"Yeah, it's real fun. It's so special playing with those guys. We always win. They're my brothers to this day; we're so good because we have relationships off the court."
Parker gives most of the credit to his coach Robert Smith.
"We need him more than he needs us. Without his ability to be a good coach and to be disciplined to us, we probably wouldn't win much at all. That's probably why I went there in the first place."
Foremost in his thinking is all the college coaches clamoring for a visit and ultimately a commitment to their schools. There are many fine programs seeking his services, but he can attend only one. He wants to please them all, but he can't and won't.
"You can't satisfy everybody. You have to be a little bit selfish and see what program fits you best."
Illinois was strongly in the running for his services before Bruce Weber was fired in April. That event had a major impact on his thinking.
"Bruce was the guy I was really close to. He was one of the first guys to have recruited me. Just to see him leave was pretty hard and pretty frustrating."
Parker has at times expressed state loyalty, but does Weber leaving end the Illini's chances? He is at least willing to learn more about new coach John Groce.
"He came to my school. But it's an evaluation period for me too. It's time for me to look at these coaches and see which one I like best."
The Illini's new attacking style fits Parker's game.
"Yeah it does. I've got to take my visit up there and watch a couple game films throughout the season. Break down everything they do."
If that statement stirs still smoldering flames in the hearts and minds of Illini fans, Parker's thoughts on when he might make a college decision provide further hope, however slight.
"I'll most likely wait until spring to sign."
Since Parker has often stated his preference to go to a school that wins, at least the Illini may have one season to prove their worth to him and his family. The fact he is willing to consider the Illini after all that has happened is the best one can hope for at this point.
Parker is a standout human being and would be a success even without basketball. Of course, he will likely have a long career in basketball. Maybe after it has concluded, he can finally relax and find out which people like him for who he is rather than what he can do for them.