Back in the MadnessPublished 9:50pm Saturday, March 23, 2013
KFHS grad helps get Cincinnati to NCAA tourney
An exciting run came to an end for Suffolk’s JaQuon Parker on Friday, as the University of Cincinnati Bearcats were unable to knock off the Creighton Bluejays in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Cincinnati was down at by five at the half and came within a point in the final 20 seconds of the game, but the Bearcats were unable to close out the win.
It was a heartbreaking end for Parker, who led the King’s Fork High School basketball team to the state championship and won Virginia Player of the Year honors in 2009.
This was the third consecutive year his college team had participated in the NCAA tournament and, prior to Friday’s matchup, Parker talked about his high school career in light of the big stage of March Madness.
“I think it helped, because that championship run, going 31-1, it really gave me a lot of momentum going into my freshman year in college,” he said.
He has started every game this year and averages 11.3 points per game, including 13.2 over the last nine games, which was second best on the team during that stretch. His improvement as a shooter has led to his best year offensively in college.
Parker said he had to adjust to the speed of the game and work harder to make shots against collegiate opponents, but he immediately made his mark on the college world as a freshman. A large part of this was due to his natural ability, and also because he was able to fill a similar role as a Bearcat to the one he filled as a Bulldog.
“They liked the style of play I play,” Parker said. “They knew I could really do it all over the court, like guard multiple positions.”
King’s Fork head coach Josh Worrell notes that Parker’s rebounding and ball-handling skills are as important in Cincinnati as they were at King’s Fork, even if Parker is not the Bearcats’ leading scorer.
“His role really hasn’t changed that much,” Worrell said. “He’s the type of kid, he’s going to throw the ball to the open guy. He’s not worried about, ‘How many points am I going to get?’ At the end of the day, he just wants to win.”
Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis has appreciated that quality.
“He just finds different ways to help you win, whether that’s (to) go get 10 rebounds in a game, go get every loose ball,” he said. “Some games he makes threes, some games he drives it and scores.”
Sometimes, winning means the 6-foot-3 Parker must successfully guard players five or six inches taller than him.
“People saw that at the high school level, and said, ‘Ah, he’s not going to be able to do that at the college level,’ and he’s still proving people wrong,” Worrell said.
“He plays to inspire the rest of the team,” Davis said. “He’ll go get a rebound among two or three 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 guys. Somehow he comes out of there with it, and it fires the other guys up when he does it.”
Parker averages 4.9 rebounds a game and leads all Big East guards with his activity on the offensive boards.
To reach this level of excellence, Parker had a wake-up call when, as a college sophomore, he saw his minutes drop off significantly. He ultimately realized it was because he had not put in enough work in the offseason following a strong freshman year.
“I give the kid credit,” Davis said. “He recognized it. He didn’t blame the coaches, he didn’t blame anybody else. He said, ‘Hey, it’s my fault. I didn’t do what I needed to do.’ And he said, ‘That’s never going to happen again,’ and it hasn’t. And as a result, he’s blossomed into a really good player.”
Parker said his favorite part about college basketball has been “just being around the guys, meeting new people, the atmosphere in college and going to the Sweet 16 one year, too.”
Parker does not expect Friday’s loss to be the end of his basketball career.
With clear aspirations to play basketball after college, he has his eyes on the nearby Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, taking place in April, which has served as a springboard for eventual pros like Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets.
He said he will try to play in that tournament “and just see where it takes me.”