[Image Courtesy of USA Today]
Wiggins vs. Parker: Round One
by Trevor Johnson
I have asked my father to recount his memory of the 1979 Bird v. Magic National Title game no less than five times in my life. Luckily, my father has a memory sharper than a sushi knife. He can recall where he was, who he was with, and what he was drinking, on top of many other factors, from that night. Larry Bird will go to his grave ashamed and pissed off by his performance in that game, a feeling that probably shaped his entire pro career. My father recalls that night as if someone told him prior to the game that it would be one he would want to tuck away; that he would have a curious, forgetful kid one day that would never tire of his in depth (read: longwinded) recap.
To call Parker v. Wiggins Part 1 a matchup on par with Bird v. Magic Part 1 would be stupid. These are two 18 year old kids adjusting to the best competition they have ever seen while constantly being yelled at by two of the best coaches they will ever play for (notice: the players are the stars for once in college hoops). But to call it less than memorable would be reckless. What we got last night was the kind of matchup that makes sports great. We watched the two kids that no one up on basketball can stop talking about take the biggest stage with America watching (literally, the biggest basketball arena in America) and disappoint no one. (Seriously, did anyone else notice LeBron kicked it into 6th gear, dropping 33 in 3 quarters last night? His jersey might as well have said ‘I ain’t dead yet’ across the back. Parker, Wiggins and Randle are already causing ripples in the NBA.) I watched seated at a bar in Silver Lake, and my friend asked, innocently, the way someone unfamiliar with a sport tends to: “am I crazy or is this a really good game?” I looked at the clock; the game wasn’t even six minutes old. That has to be the sign of something special, when someone that couldn’t even bullshit their way through a casual basketball conversation knows they are watching a great game. There was definitely something Bird v. Magic-esque about last night’s tilt.
Jabari Parker came out like the guy less talked about. On a Duke team that pulls a top-25 squad without him, Parker was the best player, tallying a seemingly effortless 27 points before fouling out. He showed off a sharp three point stroke, eye-catching athleticism and a desire to be the best player on the floor. Oh and nine rebounds. 27 points is a difficult achievement in a 40 minute game regardless of age. Parker’s 27 seemed to mount up faster than most could keep track, but everyone watching took notice. Once the most talked about member of the ’13-‘14 freshman class, playing in his hometown, no less, Parker played like he was pissed-off about slipping to fifth or sixth on every draft board around the country. Julius Randle and Marcus Smart and plenty of others will impress throughout the year, but from here on, anyone doubting Parker deserves some ridicule.
Andrew Wiggins’ team got the win due in large part to his play in the second half, where he scored 16 of his 22. He worked multiple areas of the floor, scoring on fast break dunks as well as in the paint, where he also added 8 rebounds. Wiggins’ also willingly played in the post. Would LeBron have used his obvious size advantage at such an early age, or would he have tried to win as a jump shooter, as we saw for years in Cleveland? Would anyone disparage Wiggins if this element of his game had taken another two years to develop?
Wiggins’ strong second half seemed to be a direct response to Parker’s play up to that point. To say that he took over the game, however, would seem like a stretch. Quality games from Wayne Selden, Jr. and Perry Ellis helped keep Kansas in the game in the first half. It became clear early on in the second that Duke’s fate rested entirely on Parker, who was simply overmatched by the complete Kansas roster.
I don’t know who was Bird and who was Magic, or even if any of that matters. I doubt my kids will ask me about this game years from now, in fact they will probably ask me to shut up about it. I’m not naive to the issues with college basketball: too many kids can’t play, the coaches get all the glory from the press and in the end it’s just a one-year feeder system to the real league. It’s borderline pointless, right? Well, not this year. Those traditional arguments were proven wrong tonight for the first of many times. We have two budding superstars that have already battled on a huge stage. Enjoy this season, whether you are traditionally a college hoops fan or not; cross your fingers and hope that we get this matchup again sometime in March. “Bird v. Magic” this was not, but there is no chance this is the last meaningful Parker v. Wiggins game. So let’s tuck it away. We might need it again someday, for someone that didn’t get to see it firsthand but appreciates a good, longwinded story.