Jeff Benedict

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MY DECISION

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My Decision
Why I made the difficult choice to leave Duke for the NBA
BY JABARI PARKER WITH JEFF BENEDICT
 
 
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.
 

Jeff Benedict interviewing Jabari Parker at Cameron Indoor Stadium today.

 
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.

 

RESTORATION

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In a perfect world all children would be happy and outlive their parents.  But too often real life is not that way.  Some children struggle with sadness brought on by anxiety, loneliness or despair.  And parents sometimes lose children prematurely.
 

CRAZY

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(DURHAM, NC) Ever wished you could do something crazy? You know, just let yourself go. Well, for my son Clancy’s 14th birthday I gave him craziness for one night. It was a gift born of dilemma.

Last Saturday night I was assigned to cover the Duke-North Carolina game for Sports Illustrated. The job conflicted with Clancy’s birthday. My career forces me to miss a lot of things. But I make a point not to miss my kids’ birthdays.

 

REAL-LIFE DRAMA

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It is 7:45 AM and I am at the CBS Early Show on West 57th Street.  During a commercial break, CBS correspondent Armen Keteyian takes me on the set to say hello to Charlie Rose.  Charlie is a Duke graduate and a friend of Duke’s head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.  And in a few minutes Armen and Charlie are doing a segment on my Sports Illustrated cover story about the relationship between Krzyzewski and his star freshman Jabari Parker. 
 

RELATIONSHIPS

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This morning I’ll be on the CBS Early Show with pal Armen Keteyian to discuss my Sports Illustrated cover story on Duke basketball. I spent over five months observing the relationship between Jabari Parker and Coach Mike Kryzyewski. The result is an intimate portrait of two intensely private individuals who live in the spotlight.

 

IMBALANCE

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(DURHAM, North Carolina) Tonight I’ll be in Cameron Indoor Arena for the Duke-Wake Forest game. Since November I’ve had a front row seat at this basketball cathedral while observing Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils for a season-long magazine story I’m writing.

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At the same time, I’m finishing another book that I started researching nearly two years ago. I’m on deadline with both projects, which means I have to produce. In a three-week span between Christmas and the second week of January I churned out 21,000 words on the book. The following week I wrote over 7,000 words on the Duke story.

I’m not bragging. This is more like confession. I’m often asked how I balance between work, family and other priorities. I don’t. Balance implies equal distribution of time. If I aimed for that I’d be a pretty poor writer. And at the end of the day I’d still end up feeling guilty for coming up short at home and elsewhere.

Exceptional work takes exceptional time. I’m not implying that I’m an exceptional writer. But every time I write I try to produce something extraordinary. I owe that to my subject and my publisher, not to mention the audience. Most important, I owe it to my family since writing is my occupation.

My grandfather Merle Shelton was a WWII vet who spent his career working at a shipyard that manufactured submarines. He had blue collar in his blood. When I was a boy he taught me to work by making me clear brush, dig ditches, and split and haul wood. Winter snow, summer heat, and cuts and scrapes were no excuse. Once I got married he repeatedly told me: “Jeffrey, your responsibility is to work. Don’t fool around.”

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Merle didn’t approve of my career choice. To him writing wasn’t a real job. I set out to show him otherwise. From day one I wrote as if I were digging a ditch with him looking over my shoulder. No fooling around. Every time I published another book I gave him one with the same inscription: “Thanks for teaching me to work.” Eventually he had ten of my books and a box of my magazine articles in his living room. Just before he died two years ago he gave them all back and told me he was proud. That was more satisfying than hitting the New York Times bestseller list.

I still cry when I think about him being gone. When I’m on deadline I think of him and I don’t fool around. So I am pretty productive. But I’m also pretty absent on the home front and elsewhere, especially during the cold, dark months of winter. After the holidays I tune out the rest of the world. Surrounded by stacks of interview transcripts and photographs of my wife, I lock in.

My routine is simple. I get to my office early in the morning. I leave late at night. I bring food so I don’t have to come out in between. I get by on 30 minutes of exercise per day and six hours of sleep per night. I nod off thinking about my narrative. I wake up doing the same.

I ignore phone calls, emails, and text messages unless they are vital. I also don’t take days off. Not even Sundays. That’s not necessarily by choice. Once the inspiration comes I can’t focus on anything else.

Even when I am home during this stage I’m often not there. At the dinner table my kids laugh at me because I stare into space while chewing my food to pulp. From the opposite end of the table Lydia raises her eyebrows and waves her hand: “Jeff, where are you?”

I’m with my subject. Or I’m visualizing a better scene, crisper dialogue. Perhaps this explains why I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty multiple times over the holidays.

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I can relate to Ben Stiller’s Major Tom complex. I’ve long thought that David Bowie’s use of dialogue in “Space Oddity” is brilliant:

Ground control to Major Tom. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…. Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.

This is Major Tom to Ground Control. I’m stepping through the door. And I’m floating in a most peculiar way. And the stars look very different today…. Tell my wife I love her very much.

She knows.

I’m not proud of any of this. But I’m not ashamed, either. It’s who I am. It’s how I work. In fact, movies are a great source of inspiration to me when I write.

When I run out of steam I head to the theater to relax. My wife or my sons often accompany me. Cinema enables me to do two things at once – spend time with family and escape in a good story. In the past month I’ve seen everything from Grudge Match to American Hustle. But the greatest burst of inspiration came from Saving Mr. Banks. Watching composers Richard and Robert Sherman wrestle with the challenge of putting Mary Poppins to lyrics gave me goose bumps.

boys sherman brothers story

I related to the Shermans’ long nights alone at the piano in the Disney studios. Writing requires solitude. It’s lonely. But during the reporting process there is room for family. Lydia has made multiple trips to Duke with me. From my seat at center court I can see her in blue behind the Duke bench.

Lydia taking in a Duke came at Cameron (photo by Jeff Benedict)

Her presence makes me a better journalist. Her looks are a distraction. But her glance reminds me to never settle for good enough.

Lydia has also gotten to know my main subject: Jabari Parker. As a result she knows what kind of kid he is. I don’t have to explain this story’s significance to her. She knows.

Lydia and Jabari Parker on the Duke campus. (photo by Jeff Benedict)

Even though I get home late, my daughters – 7 and 11 – wait up for me. I’m too tired to read them stories. Instead, we turn out the light, pile into the bottom bunk, and listen to 60’s music on my iPhone. Over the past month the girls have fallen in love with The Association.

(Bum-bum. Bum-bum)
Cherish is the word I use to describe.
(Bum-bum. Bum-bmu)
All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside
(Bum-bum. Bum-bum)
You don’t know how many times I wished that I had told you.
You don’t know how many times I wished that I could hold you.
You don’t know how many times I wished that I could mold you into someone who could cherish me as much as I cherish you.

Then they fall asleep.

 

I BELIEVE

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I got up before seven, parted the curtains on my hotel window, and looked down Sixth Avenue toward Radio City Music Hall. A light snow had fallen overnight, coating the holly wreaths and Christmas lights. The sky was blue; the sun rising. It was December 19th and I couldn’t wait to start my final workday before heading home for the holidays.

 
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