Smush Parker: Beating The Odds

Is William “Smush” Parker a long shot to make the Charlotte Bobcats opening day roster?

Not according to General Manager and Head Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. In his mind, everyone he brought to the team’s rookie/free agent camp has a shot at being in a Bobcats uniform at the start of the 2004-05 season.

But if Parker enters the category of long shot, it will not be an unfamiliar place for the 6-3, 180-pound guard. He has become accustomed to beating long odds.

As a youngster, Parker could always be found on the basketball courts. He grew up playing on the legendary courts at West 4th street in downtown Manhattan. As a little boy he watched older family members perform basketball artistry, as a teenager he became one of the featured artists.

“I grew up in a place where you can see 101 basketball courts as soon as you walk out on the street,’’ Parker said. “Everyone out there is trying to be the next Stephon Marbury. You get used to competition. You get used to having to out do the next guy. People who don’t use their gifts to excel get picked on.”

However, one problem existed for Parker in his quest to take his game from the Manhattan courts to NBA arenas as academic difficulties prevented him from playing high school basketball until his senior season. Once in a Newton High School (Queens, NY) uniform, Parker proved he could adapt his exceptional schoolyard skills to the demands of organized basketball.

Yet, his academic problems from the past continued to haunt him and it became evident that the chances of a Division I school signing him out of high school were not in his favor. Parker spent his first year of college at Southern Idaho improving his grades and his game, averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 assists during his one season there.

“I wouldn’t say I did anything special,’’ Parker said. “Schoolwork was the key to me reaching my goal. I wanted to play ball and I needed to stay eligible, so I worked harder.”

Fordham University coach Bob Hill, a former NBA coach, noticed Parker’s basketball talents and, more importantly, improved grades. Fordham, a school still trying to find its way in the Atlantic 10 after leaving the non-scholarship Patriot League, was a perfect fit for Parker.

Fordham’s location in Bronx, N.Y., allowed Parker to play close to home. After redshirting his first year, he averaged 16.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists during the 2001-02 season and was named to the All-Atlantic 10 Second Team.

Parker made the decision after that season to enter the NBA Draft. Despite predictions that had him listed as a late first or early second-round pick, he was not chosen on draft night. Again, the answer was hard work.

“It was very disappointing, but I kept working hard and tried to get a spot in the league,” said Parker. “I can’t tell you how many jump shots I took every day. I ran every day and lifted weights. The only thing on my mind was proving I belonged in the NBA.”

Parker received some good news when he was selected by the Idaho Stampede with the 11th overall pick in the 2002 CBA Draft. But Parker’s first priority was to make an NBA roster and he took the first step in that direction by participating in summer league action with the Orlando Magic.

His performance earned him a training camp spot with the Cleveland Cavaliers and eventually a spot on the Cavaliers regular season roster. Parker appeared in 66 games for Cleveland in 2002-03, averaging 6.2 points and 2.5 assists while making 18 starts.

But Parker was dealt another blow when Cavaliers Head Coach John Lucas was fired midway through the season. It quickly became apparent that the team was headed in a different direction personnel wise.

“It was one of those situations you have no control over,’’ Parker said. “It’s not always your decision.”

Parker began the 2003 season in training camp with the Atlanta Hawks but was waived just before the regular season. He then turned to the CBA where he averaged 21.0 points, 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds in nine games for the Idaho Stampede before heading overseas to play for Aris Thessaloniki in Greece. He finished out the 2003-04 season in Greece by being named tournament Most Valuable Player as his team won the Greek Cup. For his efforts, Parker was also named a Greek A1 All-Star.

“My dream always was to play at the highest level of basketball there is -- and that's the NBA,” Parker said. “And just being able to have done that is a big accomplishment. I'm still young and I'm still trying to improve. It's all about finding the right situation, being in the right place at the right time. And you have to get opportunities.”

In Charlotte, Parker has another opportunity to make it in the NBA – this time with the expansion Bobcats. We’ll see over the coming weeks if he can use his work ethic to once again defy the odds.

by Brian Holloway,
Posted: July 6, 2004