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Jabari Parker set to pick from among five

Elite Chicago prospect could make Michigan State a national title contender



Simeon (Chicago) star Jabari Parker will make his college decision Thursday at 4 p.m. on ESPNU. / AP

CHICAGO — This city has produced generations of legendary basketball players,from George Mikan to Isiah Thomas to Kevin Garnett to Derrick Rose.

Thursday it will produce strong feelings within Tom Izzo. If the latest Chicago “it” player, senior Jabari Parker of Simeon High, picks Michigan State at a news conference scheduled for a 4 p.m. ESPNU broadcast at his school, the feelings will be in the range of joy and anticipation.

If Parker picks Duke or any of the three other schools he is considering — Florida, BYU and Stanford — they’ll be closer to anguish.

Izzo can’t confirm that, of course. He is prohibited by NCAA rules from commenting publicly on unsigned recruits.

MORE: BYU students create video to woo Parker

But the amount of time and effort he and his staff, associate head coach Dwayne Stephens in particular, have poured into recruiting Parker tells how much they think of him and how much they want him.

The late push made by Parker’s suitors — Izzo and Stephens visited his family Wednesday, a day after Duke — tells of the uncertainty over his decision, even in the final hours.

A look at MSU’s potential lineup with Parker next season tells what he could mean. It could be Izzo’s best collection of talent and best chance to achieve the objective, or obsession, that keeps him at MSU — another national championship.

“If things went well, I think it would be one of the most talented (teams I’ve had),” Izzo told the Free Press before this season about the potential roster for 2013-14.

“It would set up almost a Syracuse situation back with Carmelo Anthony, where you have a veteran team and you inject an elite talent into it,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said of the 2003 Syracuse national title keyed by Anthony as a freshman. “I think that’s a reasonable comparison. And not only does Parker have elite talent, he has championship intangibles. That’s the key. Now you have a chance to make a run for the title.”

MORE: 9 out of 10 high school players say Parker will pick Duke

The same would be true of Duke and Florida, said Mike DeCourcy, college basketball analyst for the Sporting News and the Big Ten Network. But there’s little question Parker could tie everything together for the Spartans.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on anything, but with Jabari, Michigan State is a legitimate national championship contender in 2014,” DeCourcy said. “They have a lot of great pieces, and he’d be that final piece.”

‘A lot of eggs in a basket’

Next season’s MSU team could be up there even if Parker doesn’t come, even if Izzo has an empty recruiting class for the first time in his career. Center Derrick Nix is the only senior on this season’s team, which is 10-2 and ranked No. 20 entering Saturday’s home game against Texas.

If no one leaves unexpectedly, next season’s Spartans will have Keith Appling and Adreian Payne as seniors; Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, BrandanKearney and Alex Gauna as juniors; Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello as sophomores.
That helps explain why Izzo said Monday he has “no regrets” in his recruiting approach for this class. He is after several top prospects for 2014 and clearly believed it was worth focusing all efforts on a lofty prize in Parker this year.

“We’re putting a lot of eggs in a basket,” Izzo told the Free Press. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one because it’s not like we’re losing a ton (after this season). So we’re making a run at it. And it’s exciting but it’s nerve-racking.”

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It’s one of the biggest recruiting pursuits of Izzo’s career. There’s no telling whether Parker will some day be mentioned with Chicago’s greats, but the 6-foot-8 small forward is a consensus top-3 player nationally according to recruiting analysts, and he is expected to be a prominent NBA draft choice in 2014.

“He’s as good as advertised when he’s healthy and in shape,” DeCourcy said. “When he’s healthy and in shape, he’s incredible. He has an astonishing variety to his game.”

Parker broke a foot in July and had to sit out for five months. His limited mobility and weight gain as a result of the injury were on display in a five-point performance last week in a loss to DeSoto (Texas) High in Grand Prairie, Texas.

“He’s a shell of what he was as a junior right now,” said Joe Henricksen, editor and publisher of Chicago’s City/Suburban Hoops Report and a contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s maybe 15%, maybe 20% of what he was.”

Parker is not expected to play again until Dec. 27.

He is expected to gradually return to form, help Simeon make a run at its fourth straight state title, and some day be a force at the college and pro levels.

“One and done?” Henricksen said. “Potentially, no question about it.”

Already a celebrity

That means Parker could be Izzo’s first “one and done” player since the NBA stopped allowing players to jump right from high school in 2006. Izzo has had one player leave for the NBA after one season, Zach Randolph in 2001.

Randolph is high on the list of impactful recruits of Izzo’s tenure. The list starts with Mateen Cleaves, a 1996 signee from Flint who legitimized Izzo’s program in its infancy and led MSU to the 2000 national title as a senior.

MORE: Parker named to Preseason American Family Insurance ALL-USA Team

Jason Richardson (1999), Randolph and Marcus Taylor (2000), Kelvin Torbert (2001), Paul Davis (2002), Shannon Brown (2003), Drew Neitzel (2004), Kalin Lucas (2007), Delvon Roe (2008), Appling, Payne, Dawson and Harris are others whopicked MSU over many suitors, amid much hype.

But none of them graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before college, as Parker did in May.

“He is the single most hyped, talked-about, recognized high school basketball player in the city’s history,” Henricksen said of Parker. “On a scale of 1 to 10, he’s about a 13. And as a character kid, he’s off the charts.”

Part of the reason for all the attention is Parker’s Mormon background, and that helps explain why BYU has been in it until the end.

Parker will play in college next season instead of going on a Mormon mission. And if he were to play at MSU, he would be a do-everything forward who can drive, pass and shoot from long range.

In other words, he would do some of the same things Draymond Green did for MSU, but with more length and athleticism at his disposal.

The guessing ends

Henricksen has been around the Chicago recruiting scene since the 1980s. He has never seen an elite prospect’s decision reach the day of announcement with no solid leaks on what that decision will be.

But that’s the case with Parker.

“The ranks have been closed and kept tight,” said Henricksen, who believed six weeks ago that Parker would pick MSU.

Then Parker went on his official visits and more people around him started talking about Duke, Henricksen said. In a poll of 16 analysts in the Sun-Times, 13 predicted Duke and three predicted MSU.

And Henricksen said he still believes Florida has a shot and should be considered a “sleeper.”

Parker’s father, former NBA player Sonny Parker, told USA Today last week that he thinks his son is down to MSU and Duke.

But Jabari Parker then told the Chicago Tribune that all five are still alive. Though he’ll announce Thursday, he will not be able to sign until the spring.

Telep’s employer had him make a prediction last week and he called it Duke “1A” and MSU “1B.” He also called it pure guesswork.

“The big question that’s looming, that no one has an answer to, is when does he decide? Is he really undecided now?” Telep said Wednesday. “If so, is there a value in the season (top-ranked) Duke is having right now, and the positive publicity that has come with it? I believe there is.

“On the flip side, what’s the value of a championship program being geographically as close to Parker’s home as Michigan State is? That’s what we’re about to find out.”

Contact Joe Rexrode: 313-222-2625 or jrexrode@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.

 

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