DukeBluePlanet sat down with freshman Jabari Parker outside the Duke Chapel for a video shoot and lengthy Q&A. We asked the versatile forward about why he chose Duke, his love of Chicago, his basketball goals, interests off the court and much more.
Why did you choose Duke?
I chose Duke because I thought it was the perfect fit for me. The student population is very tight. It’s a family-oriented community. It’s very nice and diverse and a community that will prepare me for the real-world someday.
How have you liked Durham so far and the campus here?
I love Durham, it’s very green. I’m not used to this much green because I’m around concrete all the time and huge buildings. I love it, the campus is very beautiful. You see a lot of the stone and I think it’s just a very nice campus. I think that it is probably one of the nicest campuses in the nation, if not in the world.
Who is your greatest basketball influence?
My greatest influence basketball-wise is probably my father because he played in the NBA and I’m trying to get to where he has been. He played in college at Texas A&M. Just seeing what he did in college, I think that he made a real big impact and I’m trying to live up to his expectations and what he did.
Can you describe your game to Duke fans who haven’t seen you play much yet?
My game is versatility. I’m a basketball player. As a basketball player, you need to master all aspects of the game — shooting, passing, dribbling, being a triple threat. I think that I can be used in most places on the floor. And the No. 1 thing I want to do on the floor is win.
Tell us about Jabari off the court.
Jabari off the court is a relaxed, cool guy. I mean that I am approachable, I can talk as long as you can do it. I want to get to know you more and you can get to know me more. I like being around different types of people and seeing how they communicate.
Can you describe your interests off the court?
I love music. I listen to Rick Ross. Reminds me more of Berry Gordy and Motown music, old school of course. Jay-Z is one of the big guys I look up to both on the business side and the sports side now. Kanye West. A Chicago guy, Common. And just a lot of old guys I used to listen to growing up. NAS, stuff like that. I’m a real big shoe-head, so Pat (Director of Basketball Operations and keeper of the kicks)… you’re going to have to look out for me because I’m going to be sneaking into that room once in a while!
What has it been like for you getting to know Coach K in the recruiting process and now playing for him at Duke?
Being around Coach K, I just want to pick his brain as much as possible. He has a lot of knowledge, a lot on his resume. I’m trying to get to where he has been and accomplish at least 25% of what he has done. His knowledge and love of the game at his age is real rare. Hopefully I can do half as much for him as he will do for me because that’s going to be a lot. He’s going to do more than I expect because, you know, he’s Coach K.
You could have chosen to play for any coach. What was different about Coach K?
What impressed me most about Coach were his experiences and relationships with his players and how he wants them to be a part of the program forever. He wants them to come back. That’s real big on my end because it’s a family. This is a fraternity that I’m going to live through for the rest of my life and these are the relationships that I’m going to build. To have those relationships like Nolan, you see Kyrie here coming back, it’s real open and welcoming. I want to be a part of that.
I know you’re a proud Chicago guy. Talk to me about Chicago.
Oh Chicago is the best. That’s the reason that I am the person that I am now. The hard-nosed style of basketball that we play around the city is from the community that I represent. Being from the South Side, I want to make a positive impact as much as possible. You see on CNN, they talk about the crime rate, there is a lot of negativity. I want to be as positive an influence as possible and be that guy who helps the city be looked at in the right way.
How do you do that over the long haul?
Well it’s very important to give back to the community. One of the big things always on my mind is, “To whom much is given, much is required.” That’s a scripture that my mom tells me all the time. You have talent, you’re expected to make more of that ability and make the most of it no matter what it is. That’s one of the things that I was raised on and my mom instilled that into me from Day One. I like to get a lot of community service done because I was a kid who looked up to local high school guys. Why not give back like them? Being around Duke and the Emily K Center, I have seen a lot of great service and I would like to get more involved in that organization.
You haven’t been a guy that seeks out the spotlight, yet you have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and received a lot of attention that you didn’t ask for. How do you deal with that while not getting too caught up in all the hype?
Keep it moving, keep it forward. You are only as good as your last game, all of that stuff is in the past. I was pretty good at that time, but I think that I can be better. I want to go further in my career and I think that those pitstops can shatter a person. They are man-made. How are you going to make your destiny? A lot of people are going to put expectations on you but its your job to further your potential.
You had a great quote in the Sports Illustrated article. ”Basketball is what I do, it’s not who I am.” Can you elaborate on that?
At the end of the day, being a good person is more important than basketball because you are only going to be remembered by what you do and how you carry yourself. You can be the most amazing athlete in the world, but if you’re not there for people and you’re not there for your community, your family, then what is your worth? That’s what separates the greatest from the average people. That little bit of selflessness, that character. I want to live my life not as Jabari Parker the basketball player, but as Jabari Parker the good guy, the helpful guy.
You are about to play on an even bigger stage with the brightest spotlight in college basketball. How do you prepare for that jump?
I understand the platform is going to be tough. I have a lot of expectations and Duke always does. It’s our job and our duty to work hard. We can’t be complacent. I want to just keep that platform on building blocks. We aren’t going to be in the basement. We want to build on it and make it a high-rise. It’s like the Duke Chapel right here. They took a foundation and built it up so that it could be this historical monument.
As a top-ranked guy, you’ve been built up beyond any reasonable expectations. Sports Illustrated‘s cover said you were the best high-school baller since LeBron when you were a junior. With all that in this day and age comes people who want to see you succeed at a high level and also falter. Social media is wide open. How do you handle the negative side and the people criticizing or over-analyzing every shot or move you make on the court?
Well its partially on my religious side, but how I get away from all of the negativity is not judging people, but mostly being there like Christ was for us. Just looking at everybody in a perfect way because at the end of the day that’s all that matters. We’re all brothers and sisters. We all make mistakes. We came down here to experience life and that’s what keeps me humble and keeps me away from what’s unimportant. You just want to follow the lead of the greats, move it forward, keep others around you going, and try to be a positive influence on other people’s lives.
Switching gears to the season… What style of play do you envision for the team this year?
Style of play is going to be on the go. It’s a lot of fast breaking, a lot of points, good defense of course. It’s going to be a college version of how Jerry West and the Lakers moved down the court in the 60s. In order to do that we need to be in shape, I need to be in shape. I need to shed some weight.
How do you think your game fits that style?
With my size and ball-handling ability, I can play outside and open up the court. I want to make plays so that other people can get it going and make the other team uncomfortable.
What are your goals for your college career?
Most importantly, the goal for me is to win a national championship. In my time in college, I want to take advantage of everything here. Whether it is two years or three years, my goal here is to be remembered. I want to be one of the greats to ever come out of the program. Guys like Grant, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner — they impacted the program so much. I want to be one of those guys to look up to. I want to be remembered by my teammates, the coaching staff, and the managers. We are a fraternity and we are a family, so we want to be remembered by our brothers.
What are your ultimate goals in our great game of basketball?
I think about them a lot. One of my future goals is to be one of the players inducted into the Hall of Fame. I think that’s very big because only a few can say that they are in the Hall of Fame. I want to make an impact on and off the court in the time that I have as a basketball player.