CHICAGO -- For years, Simeon Career Academy junior Jabari Parker has lived by the mantra "basketball is what I do, not who I am."
Thursday, that combination of "what" and "who" made Parker part of a prep sports legacy when he was named the 2011-12 Gatorade National Boys' Basketball Player of the Year. Parker was surprised with the news in his Spanish class by seven-time NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning, who earned Gatorade National Player of the Year honors in 1987-88.
"Can you say, 'I am excited,' in Spanish?" said Mourning, an Olympic gold medalist who was twice named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. "Congratulations. This is an extraordinary honor you truly deserve. Now tell me how many times you've dunked on your dad (former NBA forward Sonny Parker)."
"Can we get back to class now?" said the 6-foot-8 Parker, who turned 17 in March after leading the Wolverines to a third consecutive Class 4A state championship. "Seriously, this award means more to me than any other. I can think of a lot of guys who probably deserve this more, but I'm lucky and I'm honored."
Parker is only the fourth non-senior to win the Gatorade National Boys' Basketball Player of the Year award. He joins former two-time winners LeBron James (2001-02 and 2002-03), Greg Oden (2004-05 and 2005-06) and Brandon Knight (2008-09 and 2009-10).
A 220-pound junior wing, Parker led the Wolverines to a 33-1 record and a third straight state championship this season. He averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 3.4 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, shooting 55 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.
Last summer, Parker averaged 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds for USA Basketball's U16 National Team during an unbeaten, five-game run to the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, capturing tournament MVP honors. In the opening game against Brazil, he set a USA men's U16 single-game scoring record with 27 points. Parker also earned USA Basketball's prestigious 2011 Male Athlete of the Year award, becoming the youngest player ever to earn that distinction.
"Jabari is a once-in-a-lifetime player and person," said Paul Biancardi, ESPN's National Director of Basketball Recruiting. "As a person, he is incredible, humble and hard-working, regardless of his accolades.
"On the court, he influences the game with his unique ability to be both a scorer and a facilitator. The versatility allows him to score in the paint and on the perimeter. He possesses outstanding size, combined with an accurate shooting touch from deep, and has added a midrange game that makes him hard to defend. His ball-handling and passing are exceptional, as he seldom gets rattled. His overall basketball IQ and instincts to play the game at a high level at such a young age make him very special with a very bright future."
Parker is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award, to be presented at a special ceremony prior to The ESPY Awards in July. The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court. ESPNHS manages the award's selection process.
Parker has maintained a 3.63 weighted GPA in the classroom and ranks 18th in his class of 377 students. The principal-appointed President of Student Representatives with the Local School Council, he donates his time as a youth basketball instructor and has volunteered locally with Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), the Salvation Army and the New Beginnings Church. He is also a seminary bible study student and a senior citizen youth ambassador in association with the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints Hyde Park Ward. He will begin his senior year of high school this fall and remains undecided on a college destination.
Recent Gatorade National Boys' Basketball Player of the Year alumni include Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love (2006-07), Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday (2007-08), University of Florida All-SEC guard Bradley Beal (2010-11) and two-time winner Knight.
Parker becomes the 14th prep athlete from Illinois to earn Gatorade National Player of the Year recognition in any sport in the award's 27-year history. The state has produced multiple national winners in volleyball, boys' cross country, boys' soccer and girls' basketball, including two-time honoree and former WNBA MVP Candace Parker of Naperville Central (2002-03 and 2003-04), but Parker is the first in boys' basketball.
Only three states (California, Texas and Florida) have produced more Gatorade national winners than Illinois. Simeon baseball standout and former Major League Baseball first-round draft pick Jeff Jackson became the first winner from Illinois (1988-89). Most recently, Carl Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.) distance talent and professional triathlete Lukas Verzbicas won National Boys' Cross Country Runner of the Year honors in 2010-11.