Jabari Parker, the 17-year-old basketball sensation from Chicago verbally committed to play basketball for Duke University on Thursday, 20 December 2012, during a press conference that was held at the school he attends, Simeon Career Academy. He intends to be a freshman for the 2013-2014 team.

Jabari Parker MormonJabari is also a deeply committed member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church). In addition to his decision to play basketball next season, there is yet another decision that he faces. With the recent announcement  by President Thomas S. Monson during the opening session of the October 2012 Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ that the age requirement for males wishing to serve a full-time mission has been lowered to 18 years of age, it is reported that Jabari is still considering the possibility of serving a 2-year mission. He will turn 18 on 15 March 2013.


Although Jabari is a Latter-day Saint (more commonly referred to as Mormon), he is not the first Mormon to play for Duke University. Nevertheless his mother, Lola Parker, having concerns for her young son, wanted to know what it is like to be a Mormon on the campus of Duke. In an effort to get answers to some of the questions that she had, about a year ago she telephoned Ken Rogerson in his office office at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. However, on this particular call Rogerson was not ansdwering the telephone as the director of undergraduate studies at Sanford, but rather as the faculty advisor for the Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA.)

The call was more expected than a surprise as one of the Blue Devil assistant coaches had been in touch with him to inform him that a prospect, which he did not name, might reach out to him.

“Mormons are not very visible on Duke’s campus. We are a very small contingent. We have 10 to 15 undergraduate students at any one time,” Rogerson said. “She wanted to know what we offer here.” [1]

Jabari’s mother was interested in knowing if an Institute program—a scripture group for young and college-aged adults—or a community for Young Single Adults existed in the area. Rogerson ensured her that there are.

Jabari’s father, Sonny Parker, who played six seasons in the NBA, is not a Mormon. He handled his son’s recruitment and said that they had a chance to see the Institute and Seminary when they visited the campus 16-28 October 2012. During that visit they also met with Blake Boggess, one of the team physicians, and an active leader in Durham’s Mormon community.

“[Jabari] says, ‘Basketball is what I do, it’s not who I am,’” Sonny said. “For him to be a good person and treat people like he wants to be treated, he handles it a lot better than the normal kid because since grammar school, we just made sure he’s around the right people that support him.” [1]

Being comfortable with being able to pursue his faith was a critical factor in Jabari’s college decision. Among his list of five finalists for schools vying for his athletic skills and abilities was Brigham Young University, the Mormon-owned and operated university in Provo, Utah.

Matt Christensen who is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ went through a similar decision-making process as a hoops prospect before he ultimately signed with Duke in 1995. However, as Christensen weighed his options carefully, there was one catch. He had to be able to serve a full-time mission for the LDS Church. After his freshman year he left for three years to serve his mission in Frankfurt, Germany and rejoined the Blue Devils in 1999.

“It was a deal breaker for me,” Christensen said. “I was recruited by some schools that didn’t seem like they would be very supportive and some that practically or explicitly said they didn’t think it was a good idea. For me, those were places that were out of the running.”

Duke, though, was not one of those places, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski was not one of those coaches.

“He was supportive,” Christensen said. “He already knew it was something that I wanted to do before we met for the first time, but he was totally behind it.” [1]

Christensen even had the support of the coaching staff during his mission. Although the mission rules at that time prohibited him from exchanging emails with his coaches, he said that the coaches would write him letters up to four times per week. He even mentioned that when he was playing, prior to his mission, the coaches supported him by often not having practice on Sundays in order that he could observe the Sabbath Day.

Christensen participated in Institute classes while at Duke, and Jabari will most likely attend Institute classes as well. Institute class meets once per week for an hour and this year holds most of its meetings in a kitchen underneath the Duke Chapel. Han Woong Lee, President of the Latter-day Saint Student Association, hails from South Korea and said his experience with Institute and LDSSA has allowed him to remain true to his faith, even when it has been tested in college.

The question that still remains to be answered is whether or not Jabari, like other devout Mormons at Duke before him, will go on a mission. And not all missions are the same. Lee also went on his mission after his freshman year at Duke, but he did not serve a foreign mission like Christensen. Instead he received the call to serve in New York City for 11 months. Lola Parker, Jabari’s mother asked Rogerson about how a mission trip and basketball could coincide. Rogerson felt unqualified to answer that question.

“He doesn’t really know at this point. There’s so much going on. He has to finish up his senior year and he also chose to go to Duke University,” Sonny Parker said. “He’s thought about it, but he hasn’t made a decision…. He is still part of the church. That will never change.” [1]

Rogerson has not heard from the Parker family or members of the Duke basketball staff since that one phone call from Lola Parker, but after Jabari’s commitment to the Blue Devils last month, he received a note from a stranger and BYU alumnus. The alumnus wrote he was happy to hear that there is a good Institute program at Duke and that the Institute had a “profound influence” on his life. “Take good care of Brother Parker,” the email concluded.

Additional Resources:

Meet with Mormon Missionaries

Basic Mormon Beliefs and Real Mormons

Request a free copy of The Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ)

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