Boys Basketball: Jabari Parker named nation’s best

Story Image Simeon Career Academy's Jabari Parker, is congratulated by NBA great Alonzo Mourning, right, as Parker is named Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Thursday, April 12, 2012, in Chicago. Mourning, a winner of the award himself, surprised Parker with the news during his Spanish class. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Story Image

Updated: April 12, 2012 11:12PM

The awards keep pouring in for Simeon’s Jabari Parker, but being named the 2011-12 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year may top them all.

Parker was pulled out of Spanish class on Thursday by the Gatorade committee, headed by former NBA great Alonzo Mourning, and was whisked away to the school auditorium for a special assembly.

Chad Konecky, the National Director of the Gatorade Player of the Year Program, explained to the audience the criteria that determined the selection of the winner, noting that Parker is the first male from the state of Illinois to earn the award.

Parker is the fourth player to win the award as a junior, joining LeBron James, Greg Oden and Brandon Knight, each of whom also won the award as a senior.

Konecky stated that choosing the winner was a three-level process that included strict attention to grades, community service and player status.

Simeon coach Robert Smith said it’s hard to imagine that he’s coached two of Illinois’ all-time greats — Parker and Derrick Rose — who are so humble and sincere.

‘‘They are both all about the team and concerned about others,’’ Smith said. “Jabari could have picked his college by now but said he wants to wait so his teammates will have coaches come in and see them, that’s just how he is.’’

Just as Rose dazzled the audience with his acceptance speech for the NBA MVP award last year, Parker was equally as impressive on Thursday, with words spoken from the heart.

Parker thanked the committee, parents Lola and Sonny Parker, Simeon school administration, students and his coaching staff.

He also acknowledged his teammates. ‘‘This is truly their award,’’ he said. ‘‘We were all in this together and they made me the player I am. [Seniors] Steve Taylor, Jelani Neeley, Reggie Norris, Dwaun Stewart, Ivan Hooker, they are my big brothers.

“They kept me grounded and showed me the way and what it means to wear the Simeon colors.’’

When Mourning, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 1987-88, took the stage, he looked directly at Parker and told him that he knew he could play the game but what he was most impressed with was his character.

“The athletic part will take care of itself if you keep working with your God-given talent,’’ Mourning told Parker. ‘‘But what separates you from so many others is your character, the way you live [and] your dedication to improving not only on the court, but in the classroom.”

After the ceremony Parker and Mourning slipped away to the gym, where they played a game of H-O-R-S-E.

“If you didn’t know who [Jabari] was you would just walk right by him,’’ said Nakisha Lee, who teaches at Simeon and handles study hall for the athletes. ‘‘I’ve been here seven years and first had Derrick and now Jabari.’’

Notable winners of the award include NBA standouts Kevin Love (2006-07), Dwight Howard (2003-04), Kobe Bryant (1995-96) and Chris Webber (1990-91).

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