Provo • An undefeated college basketball team will challenge the BYU Cougars at the Marriott Center on Saturday night, so the 22,700-seat arena is naturally sold out for the big matchup.
Well, that's not the only reason.
With apologies to the Big West Conference's CSU Northridge Matadors, the real reason for the rare excitement in Provo for a November basketball game is an appearance by the most high-profile recruit in school history.
High school phenom Jabari Parker of Chicago's Simeon Career Academy is making his official campus visit to BYU this weekend and is expected to be in attendance to watch the 7 p.m. game between the 3-2 Cougars and 6-0 Matadors, off to their best start since 1981.
Parker, a 6-foot-8 forward who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, has the school among his five finalists. Rated as the top prep basketball player in the country, Parker has already visited Michigan State, Duke and Florida. Stanford is also in his top five.
College coaches can acknowledge their recruitment of a high school athlete, but are not allowed by NCAA rules to say much else about them.
As such, BYU coach Dave Rose spoke carefully on Wednesday night after the Cougars defeated Texas-San Antonio 81-62 about the importance of this weekend for his program.
"We got a game on Saturday night, and the highest priority is to try to win the game. And we want a full house, as many people as can come. I think it should be a really exciting game," Rose said. "Northridge is a very good team. They've won quite a few games so far this year, and the energy and the excitement in the Marriott Center, when it is full, is terrific. That's what I hope for."
The only acknowledgement from BYU that something is different this weekend was a memo sent to Utah media outlets Friday morning reminding them that NCAA rules forbid schools from permitting contact between prospects and media representatives.
"We appreciate your cooperation in not approaching any prospects while they are visiting [the] BYU campus," it said.
An LDS Church devotional that was to feature Parker and his family on Sunday at the Institute of Religion building next to the University of Utah campus was canceled earlier this week because his family feared it might infringe on NCAA rules and jeopardize the 17-year-old Parker's college eligibility.
Still, some BYU fans are doing all they can within NCAA guidelines to ensure Parker doesn't forget his official visit. BYU graduates Greg Welch of Iowa and Tony Brown of Provo spearheaded an effort to raise enough money through solicitation on BYU fan websites and blogs to print 6,300 T-shirts Welch designed that read "Chicago to Provo." They will be distributed across the street from the Marriott Center before the game.
Another group was planning to spell J-A-B-A-R-I on the front of Y Mountain with nearly $500 worth of butcher paper.
Parker is the cousin of former BYU football star Harvey Unga. His father, former NBA player Sonny Parker, told the Chicago Tribune recently that Jabari will likely make a nonbinding commitment to a school in December and then officially sign his national letter of intent in April, the month after he turns 18.
The early signing period for basketball ended Wednesday. BYU signed five high schoolers during the period, but is obviously holding a scholarship open for Parker, who is also reportedly trying to decide whether he will go on a two-year church mission before enrolling.
"Once he commits, I doubt he will de-commit," Sonny Parker said.
CSU Northridge at BYU
P At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Radio • 1160 AM and 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 3-2, CSU Northridge 6-0
Series history • BYU leads, 4-0
Last meeting • BYU 81, CSUN 76 (Dec. 27, 2001)
About the Matadors • They are off to their best start since the 1981-82 team began 9-0. ... Junior G Josh Greene has made 29 straight free throws, three short of the school record. ... They are shooting 79.7 percent from the free-throw line.
About the Cougars • Coach Dave Rose has gone with the same five starters Brandon Davies, Tyler Haws, Josh Sharp, Brock Zylstra and Matt Carlino in all five games, but Craig Cusick opened the second half of Wednesday's 81-62 win over UT-San Antonio in place of Carlino. ... Haws has scored 20 or more points in all five games.