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Duke's Jabari Parker reacts following a basket against North Carolin. (Associated Press)

Duke's Jabari Parker reacts following a basket against North Carolin. (Associated Press)

Duke can learn a lot from Mercer

Last Modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:08 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

By this time next year Jabari Parker will likely be rich beyond his dreams.

And few off the Mercer campus will remember any of the starter’s names from Friday’s upset.

None of that matters right now.

For anybody who loves what college sports is supposed to be about, or can remember the days when the names on the front of the jerseys mattered more than those on the back, Mercer’s moment in the sun will warm even the coldest of cynics’ hearts.

Even if you had Duke in your bracket headed to the Final Four or deeper.

Mercer’s win over national power Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament won’t be remembered as the upset of the century.

Nor was it a victory for the little guy.

It doesn’t even show the value of staying in school, though Mercer’s players are mostly seniors about to enter the working world with the rest of those graduating college in a few months. Meanwhile many of Duke’s stars, including Parker, are about to embark on a pro career after serving their internship under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Parker, a true freshman, says he hasn’t decided yet on his future, but it will be hard to pass on the buckets of cash about to be thrown at him.

None of that really matters now. Fact is, Mercer won because it played the better game.

It was fun to watch five players on the court work together when we are used to seeing the one-on-one shows that dominate our television screens.

And the Bears did it against Duke, which is actually one of the better coached, better prepared teams year in and year out.

It wasn’t until recently, maybe even this year with Parker, that Krzyzewski finally fell for the old one-and-done players.

He had yet to sell his soul to the Blue Devil like Kentucky had done. But after watching the Wildcats win a championship that way two years ago, and seeing Memphis with Derrick Rose and Syracuse behind Carmelo Anthony win titles that way, Coach K felt he had to do it.

So it was only fitting that he got burned by the very monster he tried long and hard not to help create.

What got the Blue Devils wasn’t their lack of talent but lack of maturity.

When they fell behind late in the game, Mercer’s players used their years together on the floor to come together and find a way out of another tough jam.

It was a lesson learned from four years on the court, both in practice and in games.

When the Blue Devils fell behind moments later they looked like a bunch of lost stars hoping to be saved.

Both teams had fallen into holes during the contest, but only one had enough trust in each other to find the way out.

And even if that busted your bracket wide open, it was a thing of beauty to watch.

Every year since the flood gates to the NBA have opened for young college talent we have been reminded of this.

A few years back a group of seniors pushed George Mason all the way to the Final Four. Wichita State did it last year and now as seniors is back looking for more.

This year it is Mercer, which has become the latest to show us all, no matter what world we work in, the value of experience.

That might just be the greatest lesson Parker ever learns even if he goes back to Duke for another year.

And it is one of the things that makes March Madness so much fun to watch.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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