After losing in the NCAA tournament, I needed to clear my mind. I was incredibly disappointed and blamed myself. I didn’t watch basketball or go to the gym for several days. But I soon realized the real test is how we handle defeat and I laced my shoes and headed to the student rec center to play some pick-up.
It reminded me of how much I loved the game, but it was only a temporary reprieve. As soon as I got back, I turned my attention to one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make up to this point in my life: whether to remain in school or enter the NBA draft.
Lately I haven’t slept much. Although my dream is to play in the NBA, I’ve gotten pretty attached to life at Duke and I don’t want to utter the word goodbye.
For starters, my teammates — guys like Rasheed Sulaimon and Rodney Hood — have become like brothers. One season together doesn’t feel long enough. Second, I have thrived in the classroom and my professors have opened my mind to other areas of interest, such as film, writing, and business. Third, my assistant coaches — Wojo, Nate, my uncle Jon, and my mentor Jeff Capel — have become important men in my life.
Then there’s Coach K, the godfather of college basketball. He’s much more than a coach to me. He’s been a father figure. He’s taught me a lot about the game and what it will take to succeed in the NBA. But he’s taught me even more about life. In our discussions he has made no attempt to talk me into staying. He has simply told me the pros and cons.
There is one other thing tugging at me to remain in Durham. Next year my good friend Jahlil Okafor is coming, along with three other top recruits. The prospect of playing with such a talented big man is pretty tempting. Together we could help put up another banner in Cameron.
I haven’t consulted many people during this process. I talked to my parents, though. They simply said it was my decision and they would stand behind me either way. They just want me to be happy.
Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions:
Which environment — college or the NBA — offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player?
Which environment — college or the NBA — offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court?
The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.
There is something else. My father, Sonny, played in the NBA. I know firsthand that the career span of a pro basketball player is finite. The lucky ones play until their mid-30s. With that perspective, I shrink my professional career with each year that I remain in college. It’s ironic, but true.
I have lived with great expectations ever since I dunked for the first time at age 14. I take losing very personally because I don’t like letting people down. Not fans. Not teammates. Especially not Coach K. That’s another reason why this decision has been so tough. I wanted to go out on a winning note.
Growing up I couldn’t afford the newest gym shoes or the latest fashion fads. But I always had my milk crate nailed to a light post in the alley near my home in Chicago. That’s where I fell in love with the game that has brought excitement and passion to my life. I am now ready to take the leap to the NBA. It’s a dream come true.
On Tuesday I thanked Coach K for preparing me to become a professional. I expressed my appreciation to him for helping me grow so much as a person and a basketball player. And he reminded me how successful a season it was for our team and me personally. I told him that he is always going to be my coach. But the time has come for me to join the best basketball league in the world.
Coach K told me I needed to do what’s best for me and that I will always be a part of the Duke family. We talked about the next steps. We discussed everything from agents, to workouts to USA Basketball. What I appreciated most was his support and friendship.
Today I sent my letter of intent to the NBA. That makes it official — my days as a Duke basketball player are over.
But my days as a Duke student are not. I intend to graduate from Duke while I’m in the NBA. I was an honor student when I arrived at Duke, and I’d like to graduate as one.
I know some people will say this is unrealistic. Others will say, why bother? The fact is that I have many interests beyond basketball. I’d like to write a children’s book. I am interested in various business aspects of the entertainment industry. And I’d like to work with corporate America in one way or another. A college degree from Duke will help with each of these aspirations.
I’ve had to make one other major decision recently. It is well known that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where it is common — even expected — to serve a two-year mission at age 19. I just turned 19. And I come from a family with a legacy of missionary service. My mother, Lola, served a mission before she married my father. My older brother, Christian, recently completed a mission in Atlanta. And although my father is not a Mormon, he attends church with our family every Sunday and he has made it clear that he would fully support me if I chose to go on a mission.
I’ve been weighing this question for the past two years. After talking with my family, my local church leaders and a couple close friends I’m at peace with my decision to forego a mission for now and join the NBA. I don’t consider myself an exception to the rule. At this point in my life I know this is the right decision.
I want to follow in my father’s footsteps as a role model to youth, especially those kids who need the most help. My dad created the Sonny Parker Youth Foundation, which has helped countless boys — including me — develop into manhood and stay out of trouble.
I realize how much of a privilege and an honor it is to join the ranks of the NBA. I will do everything in my power to help deliver championships to the franchise that drafts me. At the same time, I recognize the obligation to represent the league in an admirable way off the court.
Up to this point I haven’t given any thought to agents. But now that I’ve declared, I will turn my attention to the process of choosing someone to represent me. Money was not a factor in my decision to go pro. It won’t be a factor in my choice of an agent. My number one criterion in choosing a college coach was an impeccable reputation for integrity. I’m looking for the same thing in an agent.
This past year at Duke has been a cherished chapter in my life. I’m very fortunate to have worn the blue and white. And I will always carry with me the memories of playing in front of the Crazies at Cameron. Now it’s time to write the next chapter. I can’t wait to get started.