Originally published Nov. 11, 2016 in The Bellingham Herald
Oct. 14 was the worst day of Jeffrey Parker’s life.
His mother, Princess, the woman who’d taught him to be strong and believe in his dreams, was suddenly gone. It was a heart attack, with no prior issues. She was 44.
It was the day before the first official practice of his senior season with the Western Washington basketball team.
Parker found out on Facebook, then got on the phone.
“I called my dad, and he gave me the news,” he said. “It was very tough.”
The 23-year-old credits his faith in God and the help of his family with allowing him to get through it.
His teammates also have been there for him, sending him thoughtful text messages after it happened, giving him space when he needs it and encouraging him if he’s down.
Vikings coach Tony Dominguez also has been instrumental in helping Parker and his family, including giving him time off to visit his family in Richmond, Calif.
Western opens its 2016-17 season Friday and Saturday about a half-hour away in Hayward, Calif., in the Pioneer Challenge when it faces Sonoma State on Friday and host Cal State East Bay on Saturday.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support here in Bellingham,” he said. “My family and I, we appreciate it all – the support from my teammates and from everyone else.”
Parker’s family – including his dad, Jeffrey, two younger brothers and sisters, and perhaps others – will be there to cheer him on in the season opener.
Parker said his mother, who laid a foundation of strength and faith for her son, will be with him, too.
“She’s the greatest woman I’ll ever know,” he said. “She taught me so much. Not only about how to be a man, and about my faith, but so much about how it’s important to pursue your dreams and make sure you’re strong-minded throughout life. I miss her very dearly, but I know she’s rooting for me up there.”
Parker enters this season with a chance to break Western’s all-time scoring record of 1,844 points held by Grant Dykstra since 2006.
Although he claimed, as a freshman, that he would leave Western as the all-time scorer, it’s a record he doesn’t dwell on much anymore.
“I want my team to be successful,” he said. “I want to win. (I put) all the hard work that I’ve put in in the offseason toward winning first. I know individual accolades will come with that, as long as I’m putting in the work.”
And Parker does put in the work.
After morning classes, he spends the rest of the day practicing: first for a couple hours with his team, and then another four to six hours afterward. Parker said he takes more than 1,000 shots during that time, and sometimes doesn’t leave the Wade King Student Recreation Center until it closes at midnight.
Basketball, he said, gives him a type of peace and comfort.
“When I’m on the basketball court, any type of stress or problems that I might be having, they go away,” he said. “I love the game, because it just takes you to a place (where) other things can’t take you.”
He loves the grind of the hard work, the swish of the net, the bounce of the ball.
“I didn’t shy away from it,” he said. “Every day I would pick up a ball and bounce it, and go to the park and shoot. My mom would pass me lunch, and I would just be there for hours and hours.”
Parker is studying communications at Western and said the degree allows him to keep his options open as he pursues a professional basketball career.
He also would, at some point, like to become an obstetrician, delivering babies into the world. It’s something his mother and sister suggested.
“I really believe I have the talent and the gifts that God blessed me with to be a professional basketball player,” he said. “So I’ve got to make sure I work hard every day, and pursue the dream that my mom believed that I can accomplish.”
Parker said he’s enjoying his time with teammates this year, and has high expectations for the new season.
“Chemistry is very high,” he said. “Guys seem to understand each other’s personalities and tendencies out there on the court.”
The Western women’s basketball team also opens play Friday against Humboldt State in the first day of the West Region Challenge in Seattle. The team will make its Bellingham debut Nov. 18 against Azusa Pacific when it hosts the West Region Crossover Classic at Whatcom Community College.
The men make their Bellingham debut a day later when they host Holy Names at WCC.