USA TODAY Sports
Jabari Parker is the latest in a long line of prep stars to come out of Chicago. That Parker has seemingly managed to navigate the treacherous waters of the grimy local recruiting scene might be his biggest accomplishment.
Jabari Parker will take to a table or a podium or whatever he feels comfortable with Thursday at Simeon Career Academy and announce where he'll play college basketball. It's very likely that Parker will only attend the school of his choosing for one season before NBA money becomes too enticing, but that fact hardly tempers the excitement of the announcement: Parker's college choice has been hotly debated for two years now, and the school that gets him will have a very real shot at making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in the 2013-2014 season. Every college coach in America would love to have Parker for a single season and only one will get him. He has narrowed his list down to five: Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Stanford and BYU.
Chicago has bred its fair share of star basketball players through the years, from Isiah Thomas to Tim Hardaway to Ronnie Fields and Juwan Howard, but only someone with a strong bias towards the past would argue that this isn't the golden age of Chicago basketball. It most certainly is.
Derrick Rose started it all when the Simeon guard shot to the top of a loaded national recruiting class in 2007 that also featured Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley. Rose would play one season at Memphis before becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, a selection that went to his hometown Chicago Bulls by the grace of God, power of David Stern or just immense luck. Anthony Davis would follow the same path five years later, but with a more unbelievable story: as a high school sophomore, Davis was an unspectacular 6'2 guard at little known Perspectives who couldn't draw any college attention. Over the course of one summer, he shot up to the 6'11 monster he is today while retaining his quickness and athleticism. He immediately gravitated to the same coach Rose did, John Calipari, and spent his one season at Kentucky, winning a national championship and every award possible before going No. 1 in the NBA draft.
There was a swirl of attention surrounding Rose's college decision, but it seems to pale in comparison to the hype Parker has been dealing with. That Parker hasn't tipped his hand at all has only added to the intrigue. But if history tells us anything, no matter where Parker decides to play college ball, suspicion will follow.
Chicago high school basketball is regarded as one of the dirtiest recruiting scenes in the country, whether the reputation is fair or not. To recruit in Chicago, it is said, is to deal with an assortment of hangers-on: parents, AAU coaches, family friends, even street agents, all looking for some under-the-table cash. That many of Chicago's finest ballers come out of very poor South Side neighborhoods only adds to everything: why should these programs and their coaches rake in millions every year when the only thing the player gets is a free education?
Where there's smoke, there's very often fire, and Chicago's recruiting scene is covered in smoke. Rose saw his sterling reputation take a sizable hit thanks to the greedy rule that mandates high school players must attend college for at least one season. Without the rule, Rose goes to the NBA after he graduates from Simeon and no one gets hurt. Because of the rule....
Rose had some trouble reaching the minimum SAT score to qualify to play college athletics. He failed three times before suspiciously flying to Detroit to take the test again, where he passed. Detroit, of course, is the home of Worldwide Wes, a notorious handler with a strong connection to Coach Cal. Why did Rose fly to Detroit? Did he take the test, or did someone take it for him? None of this should have ever mattered, Rose should have been able to play in the NBA after high school like LeBron, Kobe and all the rest. But those NCAA restrictions eventually caught up with Rose and Memphis and the team's 2008 Final Four run was wiped off the books. Fortunately, the NCAA can't take away memories.
Davis' recruiting wasn't without its own controversy. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Davis or his handlers had asked $200,000 in exchange for a commitment. All parties involved would later back off the story, but you know the drill: smoke = fire. In a recent poll at CBS, Davis was voted to have the second "dirtiest" recruitment of the last 10 years. Rose finished sixth.
There's a reason Calipari and Kentucky aren't in Parker's top five: Jabari is by all accounts a very good kid who does not want to be connected with the wrongdoings of the star athletes that came before him. Parker's father Sonny also played in the NBA, so perhaps the family doesn't need the money as much as some do. Would it be a surprise if Parker invariably finds himself under the same suspicion Rose and Davis did? Probably not. This is the way the game works. The NCAA, the joke of an institution that it is, perpetuates it every turn. That a few good kids are dragged through the mud with it is only inevitable.
Parker will make one college coach and one student body ecstatic on Thursday. Here's hoping the shine doesn't fade away too quickly.