Two diehard BYU basketball fans have printed 6,300 T-shirts to be handed out before the Cougars' game Saturday with a message for highly ranked Chicago Simeon Career Academy senior forward Jabari Parker, who is expected to be in attendance.
Greg Welch and Tony Brown created shirts that read, "Chicago to Provo" with images of Chicago's skyline and Provo's Mount Timpanogos. The T-shirts were purchased with more than 200 donations to the website CougarBoard.com.
Parker, ranked No. 2 in the nation, arrived at BYU for his official visit on Friday and is expected to attend Saturday's game between the Cougars and Cal State Northridge. Parker is also considering Duke, Florida, Michigan State and Stanford. He is expected to commit in December or January.
"I have a Twitter account, a few blogs like any crazy fan has these days, and the community I'm involved with thought, 'What can we do to roll out the red carpet for him?' " said Welch, who attended BYU and now lives in Iowa. " 'What can we do to add to the excitement when he is here?' Our goal is for there to be electricity in the building and (Saturday) night is a special environment."
Welch never expected to receive enough donations to have 6,000-plus T-shirts made to welcome Parker. He was thinking a much smaller number. Welch wouldn't divulge the specific amount contributed, but said it was "several" thousand dollars.
"I thought we would have a hundred of the shirts," said Welch, who will be handing out T-shirts from a U-Haul truck on private property across from BYU's Marriott Center. "The way the Internet and social media works these days, if something catches fire, you don't know where it's going."
Parker has said he's included BYU partly because he is Mormon, but also because of BYU's recent success. The Cougars have reached the past five NCAA tournaments.
On Friday, Parker's father, Sonny Parker, again said BYU has a legitimate shot at his son.
"Remember he belongs to the Church of Latter-Day Saints," Sonny said. "They got one of the winningest programs in the last 4-5 years if you look at their record. They average 25 wins a year. They don't get the recognition of others. Their conference isn't that bad. Remember they had the player of the year in Jimmer Fredette. They have a real good program."
Another group of fans created a parody video of Psy's "Gangnam Style" to attract Parker's attention. The foursome of Darin Southam (director), Jeff Jordan and Ryan Shupe (performers) and Kira Hannemann (back-up vocal) called the song "Jabari Parker Style" and posted it on YouTube. The video had nearly 5,000 views on Saturday afternoon.
The lyrics include, "Might sign with Duke, MSU, and I said oh, no. There's only one place for you Jabari, that's Provo" and "From Chicago come out to Provo, it's beautiful, it's beautiful," as well as "Hey Jabari, get, get, get Provo Parker style."
"The video and T-shirts are only part of it," Jordan said. "Some fans went up to Y Mountain and were writing out Jabari in white paper. They had 'JAB' on the mountain until the police told them they couldn't do it.
"These are all independent fans who decided to put their enthusiasm into action, and I don't think you see that anywhere on earth other than BYU. That's saying a lot because there are a lot of great schools with great fans."
Welch has been excited ever since Parker put BYU on his final list of schools.
"Being in the running for this is a big deal for me as a fan," Welch said. "To see BYU on the list with Michigan State and Duke, who are the top basketball programs, I think it speaks largely to the job (coach) Dave Rose has done.
"We're not looking to compare ourselves to Duke. I graduated 10 years ago. The Marriott Center holds 20,000 people; 7-8,000 can be students. It's a different atmosphere than Duke's Cameron Indoor. We just hope to put our best foot forward. We hope he feels we appreciate what he's done and accomplished as a player."
As a junior, Parker was named the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year, Illinois' Mr. Basketball and the national Gatorade Player of the Year. He averaged 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.3 blocks and 1.4 steals a game.
Parker was ESPN's No. 1-ranked player until Andrew Wiggins reclassified recently from the Class of 2014 to the Class of 2013.