He’ll be 50-some games deep into an NBA schedule next year at this time, with worries of back-to-backs and defensive three seconds and 2 a.m. flights to Milwaukee.
But for now – seven more regular season games to go, including the three most important ones – Jabari Parker has more to accomplish at Duke. The star freshman already would be playing in the NBA in another era (and on a freshman team in an earlier time), but one constant has remained throughout all eras of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. These games, fair or not, heavily influence how people will remember a player’s college career.
Austin Rivers was the best player on a Duke team that eventually was upset by Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, but that largely has fallen by the wayside even in the two years since then. His buzzer beater over Tyler Zeller has not.
Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood all went on to become NBA veterans – and Carter a one-time superstar – but their offensive evisceration of Duke in a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown in 1998 was their finest hour as Tar Heels.
Duke’s Nolan Smith had an accomplished career with a national championship, but the most memorable detail of his career? He was a Carolina killer.
UNC’s Danny Green had the same type of career as Smith, but his humiliation of Greg Paulus always will mark his days in college.
The pressure on Parker is different from any of those players, as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has pointed out repeatedly. Parker was expected to crush anything put before him from the start of his college career, but it didn’t happen immediately.
Parker, though, has grown tremendously under Krzyzewski, particularly as an interior player, a role with which he was unfamiliar before the season.
His scoring has become more complete, especially with going to the free-throw line, which will be a key part of his pro game.
He already has scored 20 or more points 14 times, a Duke freshman record, and he has all but locked up ACC Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC first team.
Parker has been improving rapidly in the past month, and it is no coincidence that he and the Blue Devils currently are playing their best basketball of the season at the same time. He has a mode in which he becomes so aggressive it’s almost reckless, but in a good way.
His attitude of going to the basket at all costs in the second halves of the N.C. State, Wake Forest and Boston College games showed why he had that trailer full of hype in the first place.
No matter what happens in the two games against North Carolina, Parker will be loved at Duke.
He’ll go on to bigger stages and a life of wealth in the pros.
But if Jabari The Killer shows up against North Carolina, showing off his time-freezing ability with the whole basketball world watching intently, there is a part of the rivalry that always will be his.
The rivalry has a way of imposing grandiose, one of the reasons it’s so revered.
Parker already is a great player.
In 40 minutes at the Dean Dome, he can become a college basketball memory that never fades away.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.