Since BYU doesn't have a realistic chance to land one of the nation's elite basketball recruits very often, two diehard fans are going all out to show Chicago native Jabari Parker how much the Cougars want him.
With the help of thousands of dollars in donations from 200 BYU fans, Greg Welch and Tony Brown created 6,300 T-shirts with the phrase "Chicago to Provo" framing images of Chicago's skyline and Provo's Mount Timpanogos. They gave out those shirts across the street from the Mariott Center before BYU's 87-75 victory over Cal State Northridge on Saturday night, a matchup Parker was expected to attend as part of the 6-foot-8 forward's official visit to the school.
"At Jabari's official visit to Duke, the students did some chants for him, so that sort of set the bar for us to try to do better," Welch said. "I just sort of threw this idea out there, 'Hey wouldn't it be cool if the crowd was wearing shirt to have a little energy?' Apparently, a lot of other people liked it."
BYU remains a dark horse to out-duel the likes of Duke, Michigan State, Florida and Stanford for Parker, but the Cougars do have advantages over their peers in pursuit of the nation's No. 2 recruit. Parker has included BYU in his final five both because he is a devout Mormon and because he likes the coaching staff and the program's recent success.
"Remember he belongs to the Church of Latter-Day Saints," Parker's father, Sonny, told ESPN Chicago. "They got one of the winningest programs in the last 4-5 years if you look at their record. They average 25 wins a year. They don't get the recognition of others. Their conference isn't that bad. Remember they had the player of the year in Jimmer Fredette. They have a real good program."
Welch never expected to raise enough money to buy 6,300 shirts when he and Brown came up with the idea earlier this month and began pitching it on various BYU-themed blogs and message boards. Within hours, donations began pouring in, turning the T-shirt scheme from a clever but far-fetched idea into a reality.
Fans who wanted a T-shirt picked one up across the street from the Marriott Center, where Welch and Brown sold them out of the back of a U-Haul truck from the driveway of a private residence. Most of the BYU student section wore the shirt on Saturday night, as did many alumni throughout the crowd.
"I'm expecting about 18,000 at the game, so we should cover a little bit more than 1 in 3 in the crowd," Welch said before the game. "Hopefully we get as much visibility as we can."
From soliciting recruits on social media, to showing up at their high school games clad in school colors, to banners and chants during official visits, fans have long tried to help their favorite schools land the elite prospects they're pursuing. Still, this effort from BYU is unique because it's so organized.
"I've been blown away by the way this has caught fire," Welch said. "I talked to a radio station the other day and I told them, 'I used to be a guy with an idea. Now I'm a guy with an idea and 6,300 T-shirts."
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