DEERFIELD — Just because his alma mater didn't play in Tuesday night's Champions Classic at the United Center doesn't mean Bulls big man Taj Gibson wasn't impressed.
The USC product didn't attend the doubleheader, but did watch it and came away from it raving about Chicago native Jabari Parker, a freshman forward at Duke.
"It was good to see Jabari, one of the kids I've grown to know being in the Chicago area. I was extremely happy for him. Just to see his development over the years, it was good to see college basketball back," he said of Parker, who attended Simeon Career Academy, the same high school Gibson's Bulls teammate Derrick Rose attended. "I think he can play in the NBA right now. He's real humble, he works hard, he's team oriented, and he's a great kid off the court, so I'm happy for him."
Of the three marquee freshmen who played — the others were Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky's Julius Randle — Gibson ranks Parker highest and if it were up to him, the son of former NBA player Sonny Parker would be the No. 1 pick in next June's draft.
"If I'm a GM, I would take Jabari. He's inside-out, great on and off the court, and his work ethic and mentality — not to judge any of the other guys; they're great talents, too — but I just like what I saw out of Jabari last night, especially being the biggest player for Duke," Gibson explained. "He really reminds me of Carmelo. He's a big body, can dribble in and out, in and out of the post, and his three-point range is really great from what I've seen from him in high school, so you can tell he's been working on his game."
Some of Gibson's teammates — Duke products Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy Jr., former Kansas star Kirk Hinrich and ex-Kentucky players Nazr Mohammed and Marquis Teague — had rooting interests in the games. Michigan State beat Kentucky in the first matchup, while Kansas defeated Duke in the second contest, so Hinrich had bragging rights at Tuesday's Bulls practice, according to Gibson.
"[Hinrich] didn't really go too hard on them. He's just so cocky when it comes to his school, so he's just in the corner all nonchalant like, 'Yeah.' He always thinks he doesn't have to say much because he just knows Kansas is always going to win," Gibson said. "Lately he's been on a hot streak. His Kansas City Chiefs are winning, Kansas Jayhawks are winning. He's just the man in the locker room right now.
"Naz is like he'll see everybody in March. That's his mentality," he continued. "Everything out of his mouth is his team is young, Kentucky is young, but no one is trying to hear that. Everybody is giving him smack right now."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau also attended the games, using the opportunity to spend some time with USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, as well as observe some talents he'll see in the NBA in the near future.
"It was great, a great atmosphere. This is such a great basketball city and to have an event like that was terrific," Thibodeau said. "I'll just say — we can't comment on players individually — but the level of talent from all four teams was very, very high."