Lessons learned

Published 8:18 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maryland’s Mychal Parker (11) goes up for a dunk during a Terps’ game earlier this year. Parker, a Washington native, visited his home town during Memorial Day weekend and talked about his freshman season with the Terps. (Photo Courtesy of the University of Maryland

The transition from high school senior to college freshman can be one of the hardest in sports. New teammates, new coaching styles and better competition coupled with new surroundings and more intense school work can be tough to navigate for any student athlete, even one who is 6-6 with a lightening quick first step.

Mychal Parker found this out over the past 12 months as he went from being one of the University of Maryland’s most prized recruits expected to have an immediate impact to having a spot at the end of then-coach Gary Williams’ bench.

Freshman athletes struggle for a variety of reasons. Some rest on their talent and don’t put in the type of work it takes to succeed at the next level, while others simply don’t have the talent. For Parker, a Washington native who was a two-time WDN player of the year, neither was the case. For the kid with the silky-smooth jump shot it was just a matter of maturity, or lack there off that led to him getting on the court for a mere 6.2 minutes per game in his rookie campaign. During a visit to his home town on Memorial Day Weekend Parker fessed up to his faults and vowed not to repeat them.

“(The year) really didn’t go as I planned it,” Parker said. “Some of that was my fault because I came in immature. I was really enjoying college life and not focused, but all of that was a learning process for me. I want to thank coach Gary Williams for sitting me down and benching me because it really taught me to be hungry. I don’t want to experience that again.”

Of Parker’s freshman follies, there have been no reports of brushes with the law. (Parker actually works part time doing clerical work for the local police dept.) In fact, his only crime appears to be that he was behaving like a typical freshman. Since the time he could bounce a ball his youth has been filled business trips disguised as basketball games and hoops camps. Once the prep season ended it was right to the AAU circuit, then sneaker company camps where some blogger or scouting service added or took away a star next to his name depending on how well he played that day. That happened all the way up until the time he signed on the dotted line with Maryland.

On the court Parker says he was all business, but off the court he loosened his collar a little bit.

“It wasn’t effort related. I gave it all on the court,” Parker said. “It’s just off the court I was enjoying life a little too much … And basically I paid the price for it.”

That price was steep for Parker. The 6-6 scoring machine began his prolific career at Southside High School before transferring to Terra Ceia and then to The Miller School in Virginia where he won a state title and became a highly-touted recruit by his senior year. At each stop Parker was the focal point of the team and was expected to carry the load. That was until he stepped on the court at Maryland where he found a spot in Williams’ dog house.

“Sitting on the bench was really hard, if the camera wasn’t on me I think I would have cried,” Parker said. “But it was a blessing playing for me, (Williams) is a good guy at heart.”

The court isn’t the only place Parker is developing, the shooting guard said he has grown a lot as a person during his time at Maryland.

“I’m getting a good education at Maryland; that’s blessing,” Parker said. “I’m learning a lot of new things, not just in basketball but in life in general, that has helped me out a lot as a person.”

Parker said he enjoys Maryland so much that the thought of transferring never crossed his mind, not even when he found out Williams was stepping down as the Terrapins coach.

“I had no thoughts of transferring,” Parker said. “There were a couple of schools that called but I’m a Terrapin and want to stay a Terrapin.”

Upon Williams’ resignation Maryland hired Mark Turgeon who went 97-40 as the coach of Texas A&M and made the NCAA tournament each of his four years at the school.

With the transition Parker will have a clean slate heading into next season and he plans on applying the lessons learned from his freshman year to have breakout sophomore season.

“Basically, I just can’t mess this opportunity up. It’s a blessing to me to even be at Maryland and I really don’t want to mess that up,” Parker said. “I want to be as successful as I can be. When I say that I mean I want to do everything that I want to do, and that my father (Omar) wants me to do, and what my coach expects me to do. I just want to be that person that people can depend on.”

Parker relayed this as he sat on a broken down bench adjacent to a building with shattered windows and walls that were sprinkled with unimaginative graffiti on what used to be called Parker’s Park, the one-time spot for his father’s dream community center/playground.

Mychal wasn’t the only Parker who struggled the last 12 months. Omar was overwhelmed in his personal life and could not hold on to the property that he has sunk his finances and soul into for roughly a decade.

“In the last year I have been through two back-to-back hip replacements, my wife Betty had a bad car accident and now she is in a nursing home under 24-hour care, I was rushed to the hospital a couple of times for my heart and I lost Parker Park,” Omar said. “The Devil really beat me up in this last year. But you know what, God is good and I’m still standing. Parker Park is not done. I’m here for the kids and Parker Park will be relocated.”

Like son, like father. As Mychal heads into next year looking to build on lessons learned, Omar will do the same as he continues to pursue building a spot for the youth of Washington to play and learn. Omar, who was once a star basketball player himself before he succumbed to the temptations of street life, said if he could start the process of building Parker Park all over again he would he would be more humble in his business dealings.

“What would I do differently? I would go at it better than I did before. I didn’t really know what to do, I just had a passion to help. I brought my street mentality to what God asked me to do and I scared a lot of people away,” Omar said. “If I had to do it again I would be more nicer. I think there was a lot of people that wanted to help me before but just couldn’t because of my attitude. If I could change one thing I would change my attitude and the way I talk to people.”

As for Mychal, who had not been to Parker Park in a year, seeing the place he had honed his skills at as a child covered in broken glass in near third-world conditions had a profound affect on the young hoops star.

“Coming back home and seeing this was very painful because I know what my dad put into this building and how hard he worked for this building to stay up,” Mychal said. “To see it not his anymore and looking like this is very painful to me. A lot of people in the community think this place is nothing but I think having a place like this could turn a lot of lives around. In the future, if it’s still here, I’m going to turn it around for him.”