Jabari Parker, the rising basketball star named 2011-12 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball of Illinois, has said that he might reconsider his NBA future for the time being in order to focus on his Mormon faith.
Parker, a Simeon Career Academy junior, is hailed as "the best high school basketball player since Lebron James," on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He shared with the publication details about his personal life, basketball ambitions, and his faith.
Although the Chicago native has been stirring headlines and many fans believed he would be entered early for the NBA draft, the 17-year-old player may opt to go on a two-year mission for his Mormon church instead. Like many other young Mormon men, he would have to embark on the journey when he turns 19.
"I want to go. But I have doubts," Parker shared with the magazine. "The NBA is the biggest dream of basketball players, and I'm no different."
The 6-foot-8 forward apparently spent a lot of time perfecting his game inside an indoor basketball court at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hyde Park. The church's bishop, recognizing his potential, even gave Parker and his older brother, Christian, the key to the court so that they could practice whenever they wanted.
"The church was our safe haven," Christian shared. "There were images of Christ everywhere. There was a special spirit there, because we were at a church. So we didn't do things there that we might do outside a church."
The rising star was baptized in the Mormon church, and ordained as a priest at the age of 16. As one of the only two Mormons at his high school, Parker shared with the magazine that he prays every morning at 5 a.m., goes to Bible study three days a week, and carries a copy of the Book of Mormon in his backpack. The school's head basketball coach, Robert Smith, even schedules Sunday practice for the afternoon to accommodate Parker attending worship services Sunday mornings.
While the basketball star realizes that he has a big future ahead of him, he shared that he has a higher power to thank.
"I realize why I'm in the position I'm in right now," Parker expressed in the interview. "It's not because of me. It's because of God."
Some Mormon men decide not to undertake a mission. Danny Ainge, another Mormon athlete who chose not to serve, went on to become a baseball star, playing 221 games for the Blue Jays as well as entering the NBA to become a two-time champion with the Boston Celtics.
"I don't believe a mission is for everybody," Ainge expressed, who is now president of the Celtics and a Mormon bishop in Boston. "I believe every young man should prepare for a mission, but I don't believe every young man should serve a mission."