Jabari Parker is a manchild at 6'-7", 230 pounds. And yet he plays out on the court due to his versatility, ball skills, intelligence and court awareness. Besides all his other traits, he is humble about his early success at Chicago Simeon High School.
"We did very well with me playing as a freshman on varsity at Simeon. I'm the first one to say it was my teammates who took me in. They really showed me the steps to playing varsity. The transition was a little harder, but it was all right."
Unfortunately, he had to sit and watch most of the state championship game due to injury.
"It's not bad to know that we won a state championship without me. The first seven minutes was very good."
Parker's problem was an aggravation of an earlier injury.
"I was hurt before then. I tried to prepare myself to go out, but I just couldn't do it. So I just played the first seven minutes. I had fluid in my foot and a bruised bone. I had to stay off it for a little while."
Simeon is one of the deepest and most unified teams in Illinois, and all but two of their 12-13 regular players are back next winter. Parker attributes that to head coach Robert Smith.
"The organization was very good. Coach Rob is the best in Chicago. We have a lot of discipline because Coach Rob harps on it. We bond as a team. And we don't go off on each other, so we have to stay very close to each other.
"Coach Rob teaches the game. It's kind of hard to explain. It would be easy for him to go and tell us to run and gun. But he really implements having us learn the game. Having organized sets so we can be prepared for college.
"We run a lot of sets, a lot of half court plays. We get out on offense and run a lot of fast break plays. So that prepares us for college."
Parker has resisted the temptation to take over games out of deference to his teammates. But someday he may have no choice.
"Yeah, sometimes I feel like I want to break out. I just want to play a team game. When I'm ready for that, I might just go ahead and break out. Right now I'm just trying to get used to the flow, trying to get everybody involved so we can be ready."
Throughout his freshman year, there were glimpses of what his future holds. For instance, in the state semifinal game, he showed an ankle-breaking crossover dribble to freeze his defender before putting up a 15 foot swisher. He knows that and other moves will be more common in his future.
"Yeah, that shows a little bit of me. When I get ready to score, I can do that."
Parker was unable to play again until July, when he rejoined the Mac Irvin Fire 16 and Under team. It took him a little while to get the rust off. But when he found his teammates unable to keep up with opponents, he began to take over the game. He scored on a wide variety of jumpers, drives and putbacks.
He can do it all. He even plays point guard at times.
"I can play the point because I know the importance of playing it is to get everybody involved in running the plays. That really plays a big role."
Ultimately, Parker agrees that point forward might describe his college game best.
"Yeah, I would like to play the three when I'm in college, maybe a little bit at the four. If I keep on growing, probably the four."
Simeon has had a long connection with Illinois. Even now, Coach Smith brings his young men by bus to Champaign on occasion to practice at Ubben. Parker and his teammates are grateful for the opportunity.
"Yeah, it's unreal. Jerrance (Howard) and the others appreciate us, so we're very thankful for working out at a good facility."
Howard has made a strong early impression on Parker.
"Yeah, we hang out a little bit. When he's around during the recruiting process, I go say 'hi' to him."
The young star is thinking about college, but he is in a position to help his teammates.
"I'll be ready my junior summer. I really don't want to make it hard for my teammates to get a lot of scholarships. I want the colleges to look at them and not just me. So I really don't want to commit too early."
Parker is rapidly becoming a thoughtful and experienced interview. It is hard to believe he is just 15, and his first media opportunity was a year ago July. Back then, he stood at attention and looked straight ahead. Now, he is at ease throughout.
"Yeah, I'm pretty relaxed now. You pretty much prepared me when I was in eighth grade for interviews."