Jabari Parker is by all accounts an amazing player with real one and done, off to the NBA potential. The new Sports Illustrated cover calls him the best since LeBron. And up until I had read this article in USA Today about the SI cover piece I had no idea he was considering a mission. Then I thought of our own Jordan Loveridge, who isn’t going on a mission, a rarity for LDS athletes who choose Utah. Finally, my thoughts went to Britton Johnsen
The thing is, the Britton Johnsen experience has left me cynical about this whole mission deal when an LDS athlete chooses not to go to BYU. (And let me state here that I have nothing against missions, I had five or six friends from high school go on missions and I have great respect for how hard that is)
Now here is a quick history lesson about Britton for you kids. Britton was a McDonald’s All-American. Came to the U the year we nearly won the national title (his brother Jeff played at Utah as well). Britton was hurt for the start of the season but really started coming on and played important roles in the Final Four and National Title Games (plus who can forget the Makhtar Ndiaye incident).
Now from that point, there is debate about what exactly the facts are. But I think it is safe to say this much… Rick Majerus did not expect Britton Johnsen to go on a mission and it wasn’t just wishful thinking on his part. In fact, I think its safe to say that Rick had planned to build the teams after Andre graduated in 1999 around Britton and that Britton just might be the a huge cog in a return to the Final Four in 1999.
Then Britton got an avalanche of pressure, calls from everyone from Steve Young to high ranking members of the LDS church advising him to go on a mission. For a short time it was quite a will he/won’t he spectacle.
To end this tale, Britton went on his mission and while he was good wasn’t really the same player when he returned. He ended up bouncing around playing foreign ball, with a couple of visits to the NBA. I truly believe Britton’s decision was a major part of Rick Majerus going crazy those last few years at Utah.
The thing is, we’ve seen a great many high profile LDS athletes attending BYU not serve missions or serve Max Hall six month mini-missions and none of them ever received the pressure Britton did. BYU fans bristled at the idea that someone might even wonder why Jimmer Fredette and Jake Heaps (when all BYU fans were still convinced Heaps was winning three Heismans) weren’t going on missions. You often get the HOW DARE YOU response, followed by a snide comment about Utes being drunk.
I’ll always wonder why they hell so many people decided to put so much pressure on Britton to go. It certainly seemed unusual.
And that brings me back to Jabari. Now as I’ve said, Jabari by all accounts has shocking skill. Up until now I had heard he wasn’t going to be mission bound. Of course since there is no chance he is going to play at BYU, I have to wonder, what kind of pressure is he receiving behind the scenes? If he was going to BYU, would he actually be encouraged not to go on a mission?
At the end of the day, he is by all accounts a good kid and I hope he makes the best decision for himself. But the Sikahema column couldn’t help but make me think of Britton Johnsen and what might have been.
And I’ll leave you with Britton’s finest NBA moment, when he dunks of LeBron James in a Summer League Game