Jabari Parker: The New And Improved LeBron?

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Jabari Parker reads the names of prior winners on the trophy as he is named Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year in April. (AP)
Jabari Parker reads the names of prior winners on the trophy as he is named Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year in April. (AP)

Jabari Parker is possibly the best high school basketball player since some fellow by the name of LeBron James. However, Parker stands out for reasons beyond just his prowess on the hardwood.  He's also a Mormon. The May 21 issue of Sports Illustrated displays Parker on the cover and features a profile of Parker by Jeff Benedict.

Being compared to LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player on the planet, is high praise, even for a player as talented as Parker. But Benedict says it's a fair assessment.

"The kid is 6'9", he can dribble tremendously well with both hands, he passes with both hands, he even shoots with both hands. He can knock it down from behind the arc with ease, and he's got a first step that's been compared to Oscar Robertson, and when he goes inside, he is a thunderous force under the basket," Benedict told Bill Littlefield on Only A Game this week.

Parker and his three-time state champion team, Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, have started to generate a great deal of national attention.  Such success and adulation might go to the head of a young player, but not Jabari Parker.

"He handles it remarkably well because he just ignores it," Benedict said. "He's sort of disinterested in it, to be quite honest. He really is a humble kid, he's grounded. When I went to Simeon the first time, I met the janitor within five minutes of stepping inside the school, and the janitor didn't want to talk to me about Jabari's basketball skills, he wanted to talk to me about how humble he is."

Parker also stands out because of his Mormon faith. There are very few 17-year-old basketball phenoms that go to 5 a.m. Bible study classes three days a week before school.

"In a lot of ways, [his teammates] can't relate to him," Benedict said, "but his teammates really love this kid, they respect him, and they know he's religious, they know he doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink, he doesn't use four-letter words. I think his teammates have just gotten used to the fact that Jabari does some things that are different, but they respect it."

Parker has an interesting decision to make in a few years, beyond where he's going to attend college. Many 19-year-old Mormon men go on a mission for the church. Parker hasn't yet decided if he will join them.

"The truth of it is, a lot of kids in the Mormon church don't make that final decision until they get closer to 19. Jabari just turned 17, he's a junior in high school. He's got a couple more years to think about it, and I don't think he's made up his mind yet," Benedict said.

If Parker opts not to go on a mission, that would give him something in common with former NBA All-Star Danny Ainge and Hall of Fame Quarterback Steve Young. Both of them opted to forego Mormon missions in order to pursue their athletic careers.

"I think the beauty of it is, they're not compelled to go. Some go, and some don't," said Benedict. "I think for Steve Young and Danny Ainge, they made the decision that was right for them. Steve Young still plans to go serve a mission for the Mormon church with his wife at some point, there are a lot of retired couples that do that.  So there are options available to these guys."

This segment aired on May 19, 2012.


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