Jabari Parker is 18 years old, which means he's got a lot of learning to do.
Sure, his basketball skills are out of this world, something he proved Tuesday night in a 94-83 Duke loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic. Parker came back to Chicago — after being away for just a few months — and wowed the home crowd. The freshman scored 27 points, hauled in eight rebounds, splashed home four three-pointers, pulled off a Jordan-esque reverse layup over two Kansas defenders and finished off an alley-oop dunk that will make your jaw drop.
But he didn't win. And, if Parker's learned anything already in his brief time in Durham, it's that winning is the most important thing.
"It was good," Parker said of the experience in playing at the United Center, the house that Jordan built, in his hometown of Chicago. "Of course, it didn't mean nothing because we didn't win. That's the final result, that's all that we wanted to play (for). It's all good, newspapers said I'm back, but it don't matter if you don't get the victory and that's all we want at the end of the day."
For as excited as he was before the game — trying to bring energy to pump his teammates up — and as effective as he was in the first half — 19 of his points came in the first 20 minutes — it was hard to imagine that it would be a sullen Parker sitting at his locker after the game, rarely looking up and talking quietly. But it only ended that way because Duke lost.
The Blue Devils lost to a great Kansas team in a terrific back-and-forth game. Parker, who though scoring eight second-half points was mostly a non-factor in the final 20 minutes before fouling out, was disappointed because he thought he could have done more.
"You can't settle," the Simeon product said. "Sometimes you have to keep going. When you have a chance to go up and you have a lead, that little play can change the whole opportunity of the game and experience. So just have to take advantage of opportunities that we get that are necessary and out there already.
"Me, I need to get a little bit more experience and be hungry to learn. I've got a long way to go. Defense wins championships, and they showed that out there."
Credit the tale of two halves to the defensive effort of the Jayhawks, as Parker alluded to. Midway through the second half, though it wasn't Kansas head coach Bill Self's plan, fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins started guarding Parker. Shortly thereafter, Parker wasn't getting anymore buckets and he started piling up fouls.
"People have made a lot of Andrew's personality because he's so mild-mannered and non-demonstrative with his actions. Things look easy to him. But he is competitive," Self said. "He came to me the whole deal, 'Let me guard Jabari, I want to guard Jabari.' I said, 'That's not how we practiced, we're not going to do it that way to start out.' But about midway through the second half, 13-minute mark, I didn't put him on Jabari. He just went to guard him. I think he got a piece of a shot that possession, I said, 'I think he's probably right. I should've been listening to him the whole time.' But he is competitive, and he definitely wanted the challenge."
Still, as much as Parker might have been upset with his performance and the performance of his team, he lived up to the expectations of this incredible night of basketball. Parker, Wiggins and Kentucky's Julius Randle shared the same stage and all came to play, putting up huge games in winning and losing efforts. And it could be argued that Parker was the best of the bunch, doing it in front of his hometown crowd.
"I think it's remarkable that a kid who's 18 in his second game can come in here — I'll just speak for Jabari because I don't coach the other kids. They're great kids, and they played really well. But you go to your hometown, and you're playing against Kansas," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He was sensational. Imagine the emotion that you use. He wasn't just worn out towards the end because of the way the game was played, I think he was emotioned out. He was terrific, and that's how you grow. I thought he handled everything just really well."
Parker, though, doesn't seem concerned about hype. He doesn't seem concerned about stats. He doesn't even seem concerned that NBA teams are rumored to be wishing for bad seasons just so they can land him in next year's draft. What he seems concerned about is improving, improving and learning and winning.
So what does a loss like this do? What does a hometown defeat to another exceptional college basketball team on such a large national stage do for an 18-year-old who's played just two games of NCAA hoops?
"It makes me a little bit more hungry just to learn," Parker said. "And my teammates, the older guys. They give me so much advice, and I've got to start listening."
If he does, the 27-point night at the Madhouse could be merely an afterthought when it comes to reliving Parker's greatest all-time moments.