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JABARI PARKER IS...
JEFF BENEDICT
May 21, 2012
THE BEST HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYER SINCE LEBRON JAMES, BUT THERE'S SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT TO HIM THAN INSTANT NBA STARDOM: HIS FAITH
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May 21, 2012

Jabari Parker Is...

THE BEST HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYER SINCE LEBRON JAMES, BUT THERE'S SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT TO HIM THAN INSTANT NBA STARDOM: HIS FAITH

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Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose are the two biggest talents to come out of Chicago in the past five years. Each spent one year under Calipari before going pro. "Jabari Parker is a once-in-a-generation player," says Daniel Poneman, a talent evaluator for the website Five-Star Basketball. "His basketball IQ right now might be better than LeBron James's [at 17]. He's figured out how to dominate a game without scoring. He doesn't care if he scores two points or 50 as long as his team wins. And I've never seen anyone who wants to win as bad as this kid."

This fall Jabari will probably announce which college he will attend. But an even bigger decision awaits in the spring of 2014: whether to declare for the NBA draft and become the first African-American Mormon in the league or to serve as a missionary and walk away from basketball for two years.

Only one other Mormon athlete aroused anything close to the expectations Parker has elicited at such a young age. Danny Ainge chose not to serve a mission at 19. He went on to become the nation's top basketball player at BYU, a baseball star who would play 221 games for the Blue Jays, and a two-time NBA champion with the Celtics. "I don't believe a mission is for everybody," says Ainge, now president of the Celtics (with whom he won a third title as an executive) and a Mormon bishop in Boston. "I believe every young man should prepare for a mission, but I don't believe every young man should serve a mission."

Jabari has great respect for Ainge, but he also admires his brother Christian, who served a mission in Atlanta after playing basketball at BYU-Hawaii. Christian says going on a mission was the best decision he ever made. "I told Jabari that if you have a desire to serve God, there is nothing that can replace a mission," he says.

"When he came home from his mission, we talked a lot about it," Jabari says. "I want to go. But I have doubts. The NBA is the biggest dream of basketball players, and I'm no different."

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