Freshman Jabari Parker has been pretty unstoppable for Duke basketball this year.
Parker scored 23 points in the Blue Devils’ 72-63 loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament Championship Sunday.
Former Duke great Elton Brand has taken notice.
Brand, who has stepped into a veteran role with the Atlanta Hawks this year, has kept up with Parker’s progression this season.
“I think he’s the most NBA-ready player right now,” Brand said of Parker, who leads Duke in scoring and rebounding. “Put a player in the game right now? I’m going with Jabari. And he still has upside.”
Parker was named the ACC’s top freshman and finished second to North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren in Player of the Year votes. He is still undecided on whether he will forego his remaining three years of eligibility and enter June’s NBA Draft.
Brand can relate. He was thinking about turning pro after a standout freshman season at Duke. His advice? Talk to Coach K.
“Coach K told me, ‘Look, you’ll be top 3 next year,'” Brand remembers. “He told me, ‘You’ll be on magazine covers, we’re going to make it back to the Final Four.’ He was givin’ me all these guarantees. And everything he said? It happened.”
The decision to enter the NBA following his sophomore season worked out well for Brand. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the ’99 draft and went on to win Rookie of the Year honors. He’s now in his 14th NBA season.
Brand said Parker will be a Top 3 pick “for sure.”
The Blue Devils are a 3 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. In Brand’s two seasons with Duke, his teams reached the Elite Eight and the NCAA Title Game. The Blue Devils came up short each year – but there’s one victory his team had Brand says he will never forget.
Two words: Duke-North Carolina. The win came during Brand’s freshman season.
He had broken his left foot and was expected to miss the entire season. Brand recovered ahead of schedule, missing 15 games and returning to the team in time for its second match-up with North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
On senior night, the Blue Devils fell behind 17 points but rallied to a 77-75 victory thanks to Brand’s 16 points.
“I’ll never forget that feeling after that game,” Brand said. “Coming back [from injury] and the [Duke] fans – it was just an amazing feeling.”
The win was Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski’s 500th career victory. Duke fans stormed the court and senior guard Steve Wojciechowski rushed to embrace Coach K. Brand said the win was a culmination of efforts to regain Duke’s basketball dominance.
“We had had a few down seasons as a team [in ’94 and ’95],” Brand said. “[Wojciechowski] and the other seniors weren’t proud of that so to win at home, Duke-North Carolina, to rank top 5 again – it was a special feeling.”
The following season, Brand was named the Naismith College Player of the Year and an All-American.
Brand’s Hawks have won five straight games, their longest winning streak of the season. They’re currently clinging to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
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