I’ve grown to loathe events like this. It seems now, every single time a special, athletically gifted young man goes to make a college choice, rational adults start to act irrationally in the aftermath of his highly publicized, overhyped decision.
Prized basketball recruit Jabari Parker picked Duke on Thursday afternoon, ending his extended courtship. Many had thought the Michigan State Spartans stood a better-than-average chance of winning this recruting battle due to the extended work of Tom Izzo and his staff. As always, you can never tell what’s going through the mind of a typical 18 year old on any given day, and Parker stunned some by not choosing to come to East Lansing.
Not me. Had Parker chosen Michigan State, my reaction would have been the same as it was when he didn’t. I wouldn’t have been doing backflips or dancing in the streets, nor am I melting down because it never happened. He’s simply one man. One player on a team of many. It takes a team to advance to the Final Four and win a national title. Does Parker come with the guarantee of a championship, especially coming off his recent injuries? Certainly not. One man doesn’t come packing the hardware before any games have been played or decided. If that’s the case, explain Butler’s miracle runs in March lately. Explain how unknown Norfolk State can beat Mizzouri, or unheralded Lehigh can upset Parker’s new school. When it comes to basketball, often times, nothing can be predicted. That’s what makes it great.
Of course Parker would have been a nice piece for the Spartans, but Izzo’s strength over his entire career has been forged upon building a team. Regardless of if you’re a highly rated recruit or an unknown player, Izzo will always push you to get the best out of yourself and be a responsible teammate, and that tends to scare some athletes off. It doesn’t matter. Michigan State’s on court product as a whole will not suffer without Parker. Things will carry on, and the Spartans will continue to remain one of the best basketball programs in the country. No coach has done a better job at molding every single kind of player and person together than Izzo. When it comes down to it, I’ll always bet on him and not a single player.
That’s because one player does not make Michigan State’s program. That’s never been the case, and it never will be the case. Magic Johnson had Terry Donnelly and Jamie “Shoes” Huffman. Mateen Cleaves had A.J. Granger. Kalin Lucas had Goran Suton. Draymond Green had Austin Thornton. If you’re the lead man in East Lansing, chances are, you’ve got some unheralded help backing you up. That’s what Michigan State has always been about. With some thinly veiled press conference shots about Branden Dawson perhaps occupying his position and a few concerns about his status as a “one and done” talent, it’s clear that Parker wasn’t ready to be that kind of leader for Izzo and the Spartans. If he truly was, there would have been no question what school he’d be pledging to, especially when Parker revealed he had wanted to attend Michigan State since his sophomore year of high school.
So, there will be others that continue to develop, pick up the slack and drive Michigan State’s hoop success. You might not see them gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated or holding press conferences to announce their college choice, but that doesn’t mean their game and name will prove any less powerful. They’re in the weight room and gym right now working on their conditioning and jump shot, listening to every word their high school coach or Izzo says. This isn’t damage control or sour grapes, it’s just the honest truth. Why else would Izzo be able to say that every one of his four year players had visited a Final Four? It’s no accident and it takes major sacrifices.
If there was anything to be learned from Parker’s Thursday decision, it’s that the team concept is still very much alive and well within Michigan State basketball. The collective heartbeat of a team will always be stronger than the heartbeat of one man. None of that was taken away. That’s the biggest reason this decision shouldn’t be considered a catastrophic loss.
Parker very well may end up excelling while at Duke, but in the process, Michigan State will continue to remain a special place to play basketball.