It’s rare a non-conference college basketball game carry this much buzz in November, but last night’s game between Duke and Kansas was no ordinary nonconference game. Both teams feature two stars that will be the next generation of NBA stars in Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, so there was going to be interest.
There were 70 NBA executives and scouts that attended last night’s State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago to watch those two phenoms play. There were approximately 40 media members for this game, and ESPN College Gameday crew was at the United Center to cover the whole thing.
No one cared the fifth-ranked Jayhawks took a 94-83 victory over the fourth-ranked Blue Devils last night. All they wanted to know was who dominated in the Wiggins/Parker matchup. That’s what the interest was about.
Wiggins and Parker couldn’t care less about who was better last night. All they wanted was a victory. This bragging rights nonsense is for the fans and media. Fans soak up this bragging rights storyline, and the media love to use this to sell papers and get people to watch their sports network.
That’s a credit to those two freshmen to not get caught up with clutter as Alabama football coach Nick Saban would say.
For the record, it was a draw by both players. Wiggins scored 22 points for the Jayhawks, and Parker led Duke with 27 points.
Yes, Wiggins scored less, but let’s remember he scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half. He was hot at the nick of time, and his shooting in the final two minutes played a role in Kansas putting the game away. His play late is why Kansas survived against Duke. That should count for something.
There’s no question folks wanted the Kansas freshman to dominate early like Parker, but he was plagued with three fouls and he was told to be a facilitator in the first half. That’s why he was passive to start the game.
With Kansas, that team is more than just Wiggins. Perry Ellis and Wayne Seiden Jr. are good shooters, and they can score from transition. Ellis helped Kansas stayed afloat when Parker was dominating, and it was good enough for him to score 24 points. Seiden Jr. scored 15.
Kansas coach Bill Self likes to get his players involved in his offense. He does not want this to be a one man show. It’s why his teams have been successful, and it’s why his team’s offense has always been exciting. There was no way he was going to stray from his philosophy just to satisfy the Wiggins fan club.
Self turned Wiggins loose in the second half. His star grabbed rebounds, and he was able to score from creating turnovers. He made plays down the stretch when he hit a jumper to extend Kansas’ lead to 85-81, and he put the game away for all intents and purposes by dunking the ball after Ellis forced a Duke turnover.
Wiggins’ dunk symbolized the moment of this game. Not only did that play gave Kansas the win, but Parker fouled out as the play was going on.
Wiggins had to love that after Parker got the best of him in the first half. He was the difference maker in the end, and he leaves Chicago with a victory. He learned a lot about being an all-around player just from this game, and he will be better for it.
When the Jayhawks star was asked about how it felt beating the Duke star, his answer was priceless when mentioned the jersey of his name and Parker’s name doesn’t mention them. He said the jerseys represent the program they play in. What he meant was this is about team, not individuals.
There’s no reason to doubt his sincerity. He was coached well by Self to know this is not about him. This is about the program building a foundation.
Parker had an excellent night. He was why the Blue Devils had a 42-40 lead over the Jayhawks in the first half by scoring 19 of 25 points in the first half. He not only scored in the paint, but he shot well from the perimeter. He showed he can play defense after grabbing nine rebounds and having two steals. He did a good job of being a facilitator on offense.
Parker was so good that Dick Vitale was getting carried away on ESPN in talking about Duke’s diaper dandy. His performance inspired Vitale to take a picture with Parker’s mother after the game.
Parker put on a show in his hometown, but that’s not what he was playing for. He wanted a victory in the worst way, especially being in Chicago. He thought he played well enough to give Duke the victory. He felt he could have done better in the second half. That will bother him today more than anything.
There’s no question scouts, NBA executives and fans love what they saw out of Parker and Wiggins. The media had material to work with the two stars.
It was a night to remember for those people. They came out as winners.
For Wiggins and Parker, this was serious business. Wiggins will enjoy it since Kansas won while Parker will think about what he could have done better in leading Duke to a victory. Neither will talk about their individual performance, and neither will compare how they did against each other.
Those two get it.
Contact or follow Leslie Monteiro at @LightRodWriter