If only: Jabari Parker brings first NCAA Championship to BYU basketball

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Alexander the Great commanded troops for five years before his influence was truly felt. Napoleon’s rise to military prominence was 15 years in the making. Jabari Parker seized control of Provo and college basketball in one year.

It didn’t really turn out that way, but sports writers and their readers love a good “what if?” story, so let’s proceed as if Parker had worn a BYU jersey instead of playing for Duke. The story might have gone something like this:

Parker leads the Cougars down the court at the Marriott Center. Photo illustration by Lizzie Jenkins
Parker leads the Cougars down the court at the Marriott Center. (Photo illustration by Lizzie Jenkins)

March Madness’ April 7 finale ended with the 19-year-old Parker cutting down the nets as BYU celebrated a 77-73 victory over Florida in the NCAA Championship.

The title is the first for the Cougars, who entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed.

Parker garnered the NCAA Tournament MVP award, averaging 28.3 points per game and tallying 30 points in the championship game.

“Jabari was incredible,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose following the victory. “He carried us all season, and he carried us tonight.”

After the game, BYU students ascended the mountain behind the school’s campus to light the “Y.” This time, the “Y” was accompanied by a large number one — Parker’s number.

Since Parker’s signing in December 2012, Provo has gushed in admiration of the Chicago native.

“We had a baby boy March 20, and we weren’t sure whether we should name him Jabari, or Parker,” said BYU student Ashley Belt, who lives with her husband in Provo. “We settled on Jabari Parker Belt.”

Parker’s December 2012 decision was the most anticipated signing in the history of BYU basketball. After narrowing down his list of potential schools to Duke, Michigan State and BYU, Parker ultimately decided to join his older brother, Christian, in Provo.

“I feel at home here,” Parker said. “Being able to play with an experienced team and great coaching staff has just confirmed my decision to play at BYU.”

Parker’s stardom meant diminished roles for former BYU starters, including Tyler Haws, who averaged 6.4 points less per game than he did as a sophomore. Sacrificing minutes and prominence has been agreeable to Haws, who was happy to see the team’s success with Parker.

“We all just played the roles needed for us to win,” Haws said. “Jabari’s a great scorer, and we tried to work the ball to him as much as possible.”

Players like Haws, Nate Austin and Kyle Collinsworth — all with at least one full season under their belts — are a big reason for Parker’s success at BYU. Seemingly settled on playing hoops at Duke, Parker changed his mind because of Duke’s lack of experience and chemistry.

“They’re a great team, but I knew it would help me to play with guys who have a little more experience — guys who have played together a lot,” Parker said. “I don’t think it would’ve worked out as well at Duke.”

It certainly worked out at BYU. Finishing the regular season with a school-record 33 wins, the Cougars went undefeated in the West Coast Conference and swept the conference tournament.

Parker scored 40 points three times during the season and finished second in the nation with 26.4 points per game, just shy of Doug McDermott’s mark of 26.9.

BYU sold out every home game this season, as fans eagerly watched to see who BYU’s star player would “Parkerize” next.

It’s expected that Parker will enter the NBA Draft in June. If so, it’s not out of the question to say Parker has made more of an impact than one player has ever made in one year.

“I’ll definitely buy both home and away Jabari jerseys when he gets drafted,” said BYU fan Dallin McNeil. “I’ll wear his jersey every day.”

McNeil recently was told to leave a class at BYU because of having a number one shaved into the back of his head — a violation of the school’s Honor Code. He said all his roommates got the same haircut in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.

Fans, including McNeil, have already saved spots along University Parkway in preparation for BYU’s tournament homecoming parade on April 8. Hundreds of No. 1 jerseys line both sides of the street. This is Parker’s Provo.

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