The worst part about the NBA-created, NCAA-accepted age rule is that the collegiate game has lost its legends.
Players are essentially here today, gone tomorrow. The turnover limits our ability to monitor and value the year-to-year progress of the game’s best young players. Sure, college basketball still produces many talented upperclassmen who walk the proven path of growth from their freshman to senior seasons.
But there’s certainly a group of freshmen who have changed this game since the NBA implemented its age limit for draftees in 2006. A decade ago, Jabari Parker would have been making millions in the NBA at his current age, not enjoying a season at Duke. It’s not his fault that the NBA forces players in his position to enroll in school for a few months.
Yes, it’s his "choice" to attend college. He could have gone overseas or entered the NBDL.
College, however, is the sensible choice for the gifted teenagers who should be millionaires. Soon, Parker will join his talented colleagues in the freshman class by entering the NBA draft. Another flock of elite 18- and 19-year-olds will replace them next season.
But Parker’s statistical breadth to date has been remarkable. It’s unfair that the NBA has put players, coaches and fans in this predicament. It’s also unwise to ignore how unique Parker has been in 2013-14.
We might not see another underclassman with Parker’s offensive tools for years.
On Thursday, he couldn’t get a touch down the stretch of a loss against North Carolina, and the Blue Devils came undone. On Saturday, he got what he wanted against Syracuse. He began his performance with three 3-pointers on his opening shot attempts. There were also dunks, jump shots, layups and rebounds.
By the end of it all, Parker had 19 points and 10 rebounds. He carried his team in a win over a Syracuse squad that appeared to be a lock for the ACC title a week ago. Duke might not win that crown, but the Blue Devils are cobbling together an argument that they might be the best team in the league.
In the middle of their vortex is a young man who was surrounded by more hype than Andrew Wiggins before an injury interrupted his progress in high school.
Parker has handled the spotlight well.
He speaks about his teammates, team goals and his coach during interviews. He’s a selfless contributor, but he’s also smart enough to know when it’s time to dominate. That’s a difficult balance for high-level players to achieve. Freshmen rarely do because they don’t want the "ball hog" label.
Not Parker, though. He’s somewhat of a subtle superstar: capable of taking over but not in a manner that leaves his team behind.
Everyone knows that Parker is the best player on the floor whenever he’s on the floor. The only person standing between him and the Wooden Award is a senior named Doug McDermott, who will be the first player since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing in the 1980s to earn three consecutive Associated Press First Team All-America honors.
Twenty years from now, when we discuss this era of college basketball, we’ll talk about Parker. But we’ll mention McDermott when we converse about the greatest college basketball players of all time.
McDermott, Ewing, Shane Battier, J.J. Redick, Tim Duncan and others who had three- or four-year tenures at the collegiate level have an edge in terms of perception. They were great. And then, they were great the next season, too. And the season after that.
If Parker plays two or three more seasons, he’ll shatter more records. He’ll be an icon. He’ll win a national title or two or three.
But that won’t happen.
He’ll be gone in a few months. We all know it. We knew it before he ever arrived.
Perhaps, Parker might be a new kind of legend, albeit one assessed according to production, not longevity. Maybe the word demands an adjustment given the constraints of the one-and-done generation.
Although he won’t stay much longer, his success should be appreciated.
This is not a normal season for a freshman or a veteran. Parker scores with flare and variety. He’s effective inside and outside. He’s the most dangerous offensive player in the game who is not named McDermott.
That’s worthy of applause.
He’s special. The NBA will realize as much soon.
Until then, however, he’ll be a collegiate star.
And 20 years from now, if we simply acknowledge this generation of freshmen for what they did when they were here, perhaps we’ll call Parker a legend, too.