MILWAUKEE (AP) – Throw away the Chicago Bulls gear, Jabari Parker. The new employer takes precedence over the hometown team now.
The new face of the rebuilding Milwaukee Bucks received a hero’s welcome Friday, one day after being selected with the second overall pick in the NBA draft.
“Jabari Parker welcomed the idea to be a Milwaukee Buck,” general John Hammond said at a news conference at a downtown public market. Before Hammond could finish his sentence and ask the partisan crowd to welcome Parker back, he was interrupted by raucous applause.
The 6-foot-8 Parker, who averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds in his one season at Duke, has been rated as perhaps the most NBA-ready prospect in this year’s draft. Training camp is still months away, so Friday was more about the process of connecting to the city.
He’s off to good start. Dressed sharply in a sleek gray suit in his first appearance in Milwaukee, Parker lived up to his reputation of having professional off-court demeanor. He projected a balance of confidence and humility during the 30-minute news conference while sprinkling in a few humorously awkward comments.
He is just 19, after all.
“It’s great to be back home – the great lake of Michigan. It’s pure,” Parker said, drawing laughs. “It’s some great water.”
But when it came time to talking about his role on the team, he said all the things front-office personnel love to hear.
He has declared himself ready for the pressure. At one point, he referenced the strengths of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs when asked about his role. He has made it a point to say he is not a face of the team, even though the Bucks are making a big deal out of this pick.
“Just me being a teammate is going to prepare me, when I worry about the group of guys that’s going to win a ballgame,” Parker said. “I just want to keep that mentality that it’s a team game.”
And yes, he wasn’t just making it up when he said he wanted to stay in Milwaukee a long time.
His family is a 90-minute drive away, on Chicago’s South Side. Parker can lean on Steve Wojciechowski for help now that the ex-Duke assistant coach is in Milwaukee as the new coach at Marquette. With Wojciechowski sitting in the audience, Parker even joked that that was looking forward to baby-sitting duties for his former coach’s family.
“I’m really honest. I don’t look forward to leaving any time soon. I want to keep that in my heart. If I just look at that as a short team deal, things won’t work out,” Parker said.
At one point, Hammond, who was sitting next to Parker in front of the microphones, appeared to exchange approving nods with assistant general manager David Morway standing off to the side during one of Parker’s polished responses.
“Someone just said to me, ‘Is he 19 or 39?’” Hammond said afterward.
In the immediate future, Parker planned to return to Chicago to catch up on family time after the grinding process of preparing for the draft. But his selection has injected more energy into an organization with new ownership that’s trying to rebound from a franchise-worst 67-loss season.
Coach Larry Drew, who used to be an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, said watching Parker at a workout in California about three weeks ago “gave him goose bumps” just like when he watched Kobe Bryant work out in his rookie year.
“We have a piece that we’re sure is going to take us to another level,” Drew said. “Any time you go through a rebuilding process, it’s important you get the right pieces.”
The organization’s new plan is to construct a championship contender within three to five years. Just becoming relevant again in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division would be a step forward.
Parker said it will be tough going up against the division rival Bulls, though he’s also eager to play back in his hometown as a Buck.
“I remember watching them when my Bulls were struggling,” Parker said. “That’s the next team we always watched in Chicago.”