DURHAM – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday that too much pressure is put on highly recruited freshman like Jabari Parker.
After averaging 21 points per game in Duke’s first 13 outings, Parker has scored 19 combined in his past two, shooting 6-for-22 from the field during that span.
In his first two tries, Parker hardly dominated Atlantic Coast Conference games, but Krzyzewski said the expectations are unfair for Parker to begin with.
“People ask me, ‘What’s wrong with Parker?’ What’s wrong with him? He (has) played great this year,” Krzyzewski said. “He didn’t play well in the last game, played pretty well (Tuesday), little bit better. It’s a long season.”
Parker is part of a memorable class of freshman that includes Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Julius Randle of Kentucky. All three are expected to play only one season in college, then be top 10 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Parker was subbed out for good with 3:35 remaining in Duke’s loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, and his struggles during the past 80 minutes of play were a surprise to many.
“It’s unfortunate the way our game is,” Krzyzewski said. “Men’s college basketball puts so much on these young, extremely talented players to produce at a level that they’re not ready to produce at – but they will produce at some time in their life, hopefully while they’re here.”
Parker, for his part, shrugged off the struggles Tuesday, saying his teammate’s success – Rodney Hood scored 27 points in the win against Georgia Tech – made him happy.
“Last couple games, it has just been, you know, off times,” Parker said. “But (we’re) also seeing a lot of my teammates doing well. It’s just an excitement for me. I know I just gotta be patient. Things are going to come.”
Krzyzewski said that the trio of talented freshmen, while they might one day be NBA stars, for the moment are kids. College basketball is new to them, he said, and expecting freshmen such as Parker to roll over everything in sight is unrealistic.
“They’re 18, 19 years old,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve never played at this level, the physicality. They haven’t been as closely scrutinized as everyone is scrutinizing them. They’ve been promoted and marketed way beyond what they should be, but that’s the way it is.
“So, it’s difficult. It’s difficult for (Parker). But it’s difficult for those other kids, too. We have to understand that.”
Krzyzewski also pointed to Parker playing somewhat out of position. Parker’s most likely position at the professional level is small forward, where he can slash to the basket and move to wherever a matchup is favorable.
At Duke, Parker is playing inside much more than he has before.
“If I had a bigger team, I’d play him out on the wing, which is probably what he’s eventually going to do,” Krzyzewski said. “So he’s learning a whole bunch of things, and as he’s doing that, we’re still Duke and everybody expects us to be perfect and win everything and look great while we’re doing it. It doesn’t happen that way. This is a work in progress.”
Krzyzewski said Parker, like any freshman, needs time to grow.
Bad stretches are common for even the most successful professionals, but the luxury of being granted a few subpar games is not offered to college superstars, Krzyzewski said.
“I mean, (Derek) Jeter doesn’t hit .950, you know? He’s there every day,” Kryzyzewski said. “LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant) and all these guys, they lose. They play poorly. But in college basketball, those kids, it’s like, no they’re supposed to be instant. It’s not instant. Nothing is instant. We just gotta make sure we don’t let that pressure get to him to where he loses the ability to have fun. He plays the game because he has fun playing it. He’s a great kid. Still a kid.” Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org