Jabari Parker is only a freshman, but this kid is playing well beyond his years. In a game in which Duke should have ran away with a win over Alabama, the Blue Devils were pushed to the brink of their second loss. If it wasn’t for their freshman phenom, Parker, the Blue Devils would have been exiting the NIT Season Tip-Off a game earlier than intended. On a night when only Parker and Matt Jones were able to connect on more than 50 percent of their shots for the Blue Devils, Duke somehow secured a victory and will now face Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off Final on Friday. Victories like this only happen when you have a talent like Parker on your team.
The final score shows a double-digit win for the Blue Devils, but that is not indicative of how the game really went. Duke jumped out to a big lead early on the Crimson Tide, thanks to the big performance of Parker, but the Tide cut the Duke lead to 46-40 in the second half. Alabama turned up the pressure — hounding Duke full-court — and the Blue Devils could not hold onto the ball. Duke had a season high 19 turnovers, even Parker wasn’t immune — he had five. Any other team, on any other night is going to lose that game, but Duke did not lose, and the reason why is Parker. Parker cannot be guarded by any player in the NCAA. He is too big, too skilled and too determined. Alabama did not have a response for Parker, and honestly, no one has a response for him, but they got in the face of every Duke player, and was able to stay in the game.
Parker posted yet another 20-plus point night for the Blue Devils (27 to be exact), and extended his 20-point game streak to seven; he has been amazing this season. There have been comparisons made of Parker and Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Michael Beasley, all of whom posted video-game numbers during their freshman seasons. These comparisons may seem a little hyperbolic, but that is not the case. Parker is the real deal; he is the leader of a team with genuine title expectations. Duke goes nine deep on their depth chart. Parker and Jones are the only freshman, yet Parker is the voice and heart of this team. Freshman rarely outshine upperclassman as leaders, but that is part of what makes Parker so special.
It’s rare to see a freshman be the be-all-and end-all for a blue-blood school like Duke the way Parker is for them this year. Normally teams like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas have a cast of stars, even if they do have a big-time freshman they have multiple freshmen sharing the load. Kentucky has been depending on freshman for years, but not Duke or Coach K. He has always ran his team more like an organization or business. Now he’s given the keys to a youngster, and that youngster is keeping Duke on track and leading his team like someone who is more than just a freshman.
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