Rookie Jabari Parker speaks in the calm, measured tones of a 10-year veteran. A polished demeanor exudes confidence, while a strong work ethic draws respect from his new NBA teammates.
The Milwaukee Bucks' 19-year-old forward seems ready for the off-court attention that comes with being a cornerstone for a franchise in transition. Now it's time to show if he can play ball.
"I am nervous. It is a stretch, 82 games. I'm not really used to doing it," said the one-and-done star from Duke. "But looking forward to it. If I want to be in this league a long time, I just have to throw myself into the fire."
The tools certainly seem like they're there. The 6-foot-8 Parker was considered one of the top NBA-ready prospects in this year's draft. It was a no-brainer for general manager John Hammond when Parker was available with the second overall pick.
A franchise with new ownership got rookie star power. Soon afterward, new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens jettisoned coach Larry Drew after one year and hired Jason Kidd, who came to the Midwest following a messy split with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Bucks finally appear to be in a legitimate rebuilding mode after years of not having a clear-cut philosophy. The team is also hoping to build a new arena with the help of public funding.
Last season's franchise-worst 15-67 season seemed to be rock-bottom. Parker and Kidd hope to give new reasons to look forward to the future.
"The offense we ran in Brooklyn is the offense we're trying to do here," Kidd said. "Share the ball. Make a play for a teammate. Be unselfish, and take the shot when it presents itself. They've been doing it since Day 1 of training camp."
Here are some things to watch with the new-look Bucks, who open the season on Oct. 29 in Charlotte:
BABY BUCKS: Milwaukee may have one of the youngest rosters in the league with Parker and fellow 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. They're also the team's two most promising players, giving Kidd length and flexibility in the frontcourt.
"It's tough, and I've got to guard myself, I tell you," general manager John Hammond said about managing expectations for the teens. "It's how they are going to be some day at 21, 22, 23, 24 and beyond in their careers. I think the sky's the limit."
JUST JABARI: Parker's first preseason outing against Memphis showed glimpses of what might be to come in this rookie year. Forward Zach Randolph burned Parker with his lethal midrange jumper — a shot that's beaten countless other defenders. Parker went right back at him at the other end. He looked nervous initially, but started asserting himself late with a few dunks and strong moves to the bucket, albeit against Memphis reserves.
"Offensively, he can put the ball in the basket, make plays for his teammates," Kidd said. "You don't have to call his number — the ball finds him and he responds in a positive way."
SPELLING BEE: The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo is getting noticed for more than just his last name. The Bucks' 2013 first-round draft pick played point guard in his native Greece and grew 2 inches in the offseason. He's still learning the game, and it's possible that he could play a point forward role at times.
SANDERS SHOW: Six-foot-11 center Larry Sanders has shown signs that he is ready to shake off the injuries and off-court issues that dogged him in 2013-14. Sanders played well in three preseason games, averaging 10.7 points and 10.0 rebounds before being sidelined by minor surgery for an undisclosed illness. The Bucks said he would be ready for the opener, hoping he can revert to his shot-blocking form.
ON POINT: Kidd is sorting through different options in the backcourt led by scoring point guard Brandon Knight. The Bucks signed pass-first point guard Kendall Marshall in the offseason, so it's possible Milwaukee could go with a Knight-Marshall backcourt.
"I think it gives the defense something different to look at when there (are) two guys that can create and penetrate," Knight said. "It's a different look than what most teams do."
Veteran shooting guard O.J. Mayo is also playing well in the preseason after a subpar 2013-14.
AP freelance writers Andrew Wagner in St. Francis, Wisconsin, and Adry Torres in New York contributed to this report.
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