When Sports Illustrated called Jabari Parker “the best high school player since LeBron James” on its May 21, 2012 cover, a rivalry was born. Andrew Wiggins, then a grade below Parker, believed he was the best player in the country and deserved the cover story of the magazine. He was upset that Parker got the nod, and from that moment forward, he was out to prove SI wrong. The upcoming summer AAU circuit would provide the opportunity to outshine Parker, so Wiggins thought.
But just two days before the 2012 Nike Peach Jam — an AAU tournament that would put the two in a head-to-head matchup on its third day — was set to kick off in South Carolina, Jabari Parker announced he would sit out to recover from a right heel injury he had been playing on for two months. Parker’s father said his son was fine and just needed the rest at the time. He said Jabari had nothing to prove that summer after earning a state title and Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Andrew Wiggins disagreed.
Wiggins wanted Parker to prove he deserved the SI cover and the “Best Since LeBron James” title. Wiggins wanted a shot at Parker, the nation’s best player. Wiggins wanted to outshine him in front of every scout and college basketball coach in America. But Parker was resting that heel and “had nothing to prove,” in his eyes.
Andrew Wiggins won’t ever admit it publicly, but some of those who know him will tell you he thought Jabari Parker was ducking him last summer. At the time, Parker was the top ranked player in the 2013 class; Wiggins the top ranked in the class of 2014. Wiggins was hungry to be the guy, while Parker had already drawn all the praise. It’s the matchup everyone wanted to see — everyone, except the Parkers.
Tonight, after almost a year of debating the two prep stars, we get to see the matchup, if only for a few plays. It’s not the game Andrew Wiggins hoped for last summer, but he’ll have the opportunity to body up with the player he overtook for the No. 1 spot when he reclassified last fall.
Both guys will probably tell you tonight doesn’t matter and it’s all in fun, but there’s no denying the magnitude of the contest. Wiggins, though now the top guy, finally gets his shot at Sports Illustrated‘s cover boy; Parker, who will suit up for Duke next fall, gets the kid who took his spot atop the high school rankings.
It’s going to be a showdown.