Jabari Parker likes it so much better this way.
When he stepped out of the locker room after he and his Simeon (Chicago) squad fell to Montverde (Fla.), 82-53, at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va., on Jan. 5, Parker didn’t have to deal with hordes of reporters shoving microphones and cameras in his face asking reworded versions of the same questions.
Where are you going to school?
“I’m so glad that’s over,” said Parker, a senior forward. “I have never been a guy who likes a bunch of attention, and ever since I committed to Duke last month it’s pretty much calmed down. Now that I’m back to playing it feels good to just be able to focus on getting my game back. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Parker, who had been sidelined since July with a fractured right foot, returned in December, but from timing to stamina, the process of getting back to his elite level has been grueling.
“When you can’t do anything but sit around it’s easy to pick up weight,” said Parker, who is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 100. “The good thing is, when you get back into your routine of working out and going hard it’s easy to shed the weight. I don’t know how much I’ve lost, but the important thing is I’m starting to feel better out there. I was a little worried when I first came back.”
Parker will admit this much, in hindsight; he “probably came back a few weeks too early.”
“Probably wasn’t the wisest move for me,” said Parker, anointed by Sports Illustrated as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James. “My foot was hurting a little bit a few weeks back because of it, but I’m feeling a lot better. It feels fine now.”
That’s translated into success on the court.
PHOTOS: Parker's path to Duke
Parker played his first nationally televised game of the season on Dec. 13 against De Soto (Texas) and had as many turnovers as points – five – in the 67-57 loss.
“It was just his second game back and he was trying to get his rhythm down,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “Definitely wasn’t his normal self.”
Parker turned in a near-vintage performance in the Wolverines’ loss to Montverde, posting 17 points, including two acrobatic put-back dunks that sent the capacity crowd into a frenzy. He also added 13 rebounds despite playing at “just 80 percent,” according to Smith.
“He’s getting there,” Smith said. “The reality is that Jabari’s 80 percent is better than most people’s 100 percent. He’s a remarkable player, but he’s still not playing at the level that he’s capable of. But that comes with time.”
Don’t expect Parker to co-sign that statement or any other remotely resembling an excuse.
Even if it’s valid.
“You’ll never hear any excuses from me,” Parker said. “If I’m not able to play at a high level I shouldn’t be out there, so I’m not gonna play and then mention my foot. Can’t do that.”
Montverde center Dakari Johnson wouldn’t have bought any foot excuses anyway.
“Not the way he played,” Johnson said.
The pair teamed last summer to lead the Team USA U17 to a gold medal in Lithuania.
“He played well against us,” said Johnson, a senior who is committed to Kentucky. “I know he's very competitive and he’s not going to let the critics or negative things get to him. He just plays. He's getting back into his groove again though.”
That’s the silver lining for Parker.
Sure, it’s frustrating at times when his body won’t do what his mind knows it can, but in proper perspective, the process of getting back to 100 percent is just fine with Parker.
“I’m so blessed to even be stepping out on the floor,” Parker said. “I mean that. The worst thing that happened to me was having basketball taken away. I would even start to get depressed at times so to have this back is all I need. I know everything will come back to where it was and better; I’m not worried about that. I’ve got an even deeper love for this game now, and I’m just happy to be back.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSAToday.