By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Apr 15, 2015 at 1:03 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

The last time I was able to speak to Jabari Parker, it was to talk about his appearance in a national campaign for Gatorade, a topic that made him a little uncomfortable in that, one, he was talking about himself and, two, he wasn’t on the floor helping the Milwaukee Bucks win basketball games.

We chatted for a bit about the spot, and we did talk about his rehabilitation process in coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury he suffered in the 25th game of his career.

At the time of the surgery, the Bucks said a timeline for his return to basketball activities would be determined at a later date, and when we chatted in early March, that was still the case.

Multiple sources within the organization have said the surgery not only went well, but so has Parker’s rehab – to the point that his body is getting a complete makeover (the Bucks even brought in world renowned ACL rehab specialist Suki Hobson from England to assist in the process) and Parker will be stronger than ever.

Parker injured the knee on Dec. 15, 2014 – so it’s possible he doesn’t return to the court until that point this year, give or take a few weeks on the front or back end of that date.

That’s of no concern to the Bucks, or Parker, really.

Parker’s raw numbers – 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29 minutes per game – weren’t mind blowing. Neither were the metrics, but you could see him coming along, the makings of the "star" player the Bucks organization hasn’t had since … Glenn Robinson? Ray Allen? Michael Redd?

Yes, technically, it’s a "lost" season for Parker on the court. It would’ve been good for him, and the team, to play side-by-side Giannis Antetokounmpo for 82 games, and with Michael Carter-Williams for the final 30 or so, not to mention the playoffs.

But a less tangible "loss" was Parker’s presence off the court, especially as the public discourse has ramped up of late regarding funding for a new arena.

Why does that matter?

Because it’s sports, and the players always matter. And in the NBA, the star player matters even more.

And lest we forget how celebrated Parker was as a draft pick in the summer, and how he was positioned locally and nationally. Not as a savior, no, but as a star on the make; a literal game changer for the franchise.

Now, I’m not saying that Parker would’ve turned into a 20-point a game scorer by the end of this year, and he’s not a magnetic personality (yet), but make no mistake – the Bucks would’ve loved to able to position him as the face of the franchise and the guy to shake hands, represent the team and stump for new facilities.

No, Parker wasn’t going to change any politician’s mind exactly, but he would’ve helped the cause – especially if he was turning in a Rookie of the Year campaign as the Bucks marched to the playoffs.

I talked to a guy who would know about this type of thing, 2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose.

I thought he would be a good resource to bounce this off of, to know if Parker would’ve been able to handle weight of being christened as "the face" of an organization in such a heavy, off-court manner.

Yes, Rose is playing in the house Jordan built – the United Center – but he was asked to do for his hometown Bulls after being the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft what Parker is being asked to do 90 miles north: revitalize a once-proud organization and its fan base.

And, there were natural comparisons between the two, despite their different positions on the court. Rose and Parker are Chicago natives, Simeon Career Academy alumni and played for Robert Smith there. Each played for coach Mike Krzyzewski (Rose in USA Basketball) and Rose knows Sonny Parker well, Jabari’s father and a six-year NBA veteran.

Knowing all that, could Parker have been any more prepared for this?

"No. Not at all," Rose said. "That’s why this happened to him. I think he’s prepared. He’s very professional. Coming in, having things organized. Just hearing stories about him in the city, working out, he’s doing all the right things."

And as for Parker’s status in Milwaukee, Rose knowingly smiled and began to chuckle before the question was out.

Came here, No. 2 pick, weight of the city, they want a new arena …

"Everything," Rose said with a smile.

I imagine he could handle that?

"Oh yeah. Personally, I think he’s ready for anything," Rose said. "He’s not going to let anything change who he is as a person. As far as the franchise picking a player, I think you couldn’t pick any better player right now."

By the time Parker suits up again for the Bucks, the arena funding issues should be settled, and construction should be underway. And, he’ll be a big part of that, too (I can see the hard-hat and silver shovel picture already) but make no mistake – the Bucks did lose a bit of momentum in the present moment, of not having him available, to be the "star" they needed that could further help sway public opinion.

But in the long run – and he and the team will say this – it’s about him being healthy and on the court, and helping the Bucks not only win games, but contend for a title. And in that regard, Rose just as confident Parker is ready to do that as well.

"He wants to be great," Rose said. "He’s not playing this game just to play it or just to get the check. He’s playing because it’s something that he dreamed about, and he’s playing because he wants to go down as one of the greatest ever to do it."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.