It is hard to think that on a team with two highly touted recruits, Marist pulled in the player who has so far had the biggest impact on his team so far this season.
But when head coach Mike Maker and his staff walked into Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, they had their eyes on a guard standing over 6’2″, while the likes of Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois were seeking out the sixth best power forward in the class of 2015 in Carlton Bragg. Yet it was Brian Parker who by the end of their high school season who would win the team’s MVP award after they won the state championship.
Maker was looking for winners in his first recruiting class, players willing to compete to change a program that has yet to win a MAAC tournament championship. He found one in Parker, who ranks second on the team in scoring (14.5 ppg) and won MAAC Rookie of the Week. He was Maker’s first offer of his first recruiting class. Parker became his first commit when he signed his letter of intent last November.
“We went to his high school in the fall period, I mean we offered on the spot, right on the spot,” Maker said. “I’ve been doing it a long time, I’ve never seen a kid more competitive than [him]. He’s just a fierce competitor and then his understanding of the game, and then just his unique presence. I love the kid, he’s so tough. I think as time goes on those traits will be infectious to the rest of this team.”
Parker’s high school team featured the 21st best player on ESPN’s Top 100 in the 6’9” forward Bragg, who would eventually commit to Kansas in the spring. His high school class also featured forward Dererk Pardon who committed to Northwestern before Parker pledged to Marist. It was easy to say that the 6’2” guard may have been overlooked.
“He’s built like a football player,” Maker said. “He’s built like a fullback that moves like a tailback and he thinks like a quarterback.”
The 6’2” Parker has built an unusual game. Most guards who take the MAAC by storm are known as strong outside shooters, but the freshman generates most of his offense from inside five feet of the basket. Maker regards him as their “best post up option on offense” on a roster players who are all taller than him, except for Khallid Hart who shares his 6’2″ height.
“I used to play the post back in middle school,” Parker said, adding he learned to play guard after his teammates outgrew his stature. “It’s the edge of my game that I’ve never lost.”
Parker’s father, Brian Sr., knows a thing or two about shot efficiency. He still owns the the record at Cleveland State for best field goal shooting percentage, which he set in 1989 (66.4%) and finished 0.7% short of that record in 1990. The freshman has converted 55.7% of his two-pointers and 53.6% of his field goals so far in his first season.
The younger Parker was aided in crafting his game, where he drives the lane and tends to use a floater to get the ball over taller defenders, thanks to the competition he played against shot blockers Bragg and Pardon.
“They’re also great defenders, so they helped with my driving skills too,” Parker said of practicing with two All-Americans. “My high school team really helped me become the player I am today.”
Halfway through their freshman seasons, it is Parker who is compiling up the numbers, playing more minutes per game and has more points (219) than his two highly touted high school teammates have combined.
“I just happen to be doing really good. They also play at a higher level than I am, so that’s also a factor,” Parker said. “They’re both two really great players, they just play at higher programs.”
In a different situation, Maker would hardly play the 6’2” guard, but he has out of necessity. His freshman class has been exposed early and often; freshmen are four of the top five scorers on the Red Foxes next to leading scorer junior Khallid Hart (21.7 ppg). The only freshman Maker started at Williams was Duncan Robinson, who managed 17.1 ppg at the Division III school before transferring to Michigan.
“I told them they’re not freshmen anymore, they’re sophomores,” Maker said. “They’ve played enough minutes to be sophomores in a normal program. In a healthier program, they’re not playing.”
This is Maker’s first recruiting class, having inherited the job in June 2014 and holding onto a class of signees recruited by Jeff Bower, who became the Detroit Pistons general manager.
“It takes a long time to build a successful program and we’re in the infant stages,” Maker said. “This is our first recruiting class and I’d have to say that it’s been a successful one.”
Parker said the size and strength of the college game was adjustment he made through the season’s first month, but once he found his legs he has delivered. The freshman has averaged 17 ppg in his last six games and has showcased his ability to pull down rebounds to go with setting up his teammates. He and Kristinn Palsson (8.2 ppg) are the only two Red Fox freshmen to start double digit games so far, but Isaiah Lamb (7.8 ppg) will likely join them soon as he gets increased playing time.
“I think this first class led by Brian is a good start for us and heck Kristinn Palsson doesn’t look like a fierce competitor, but he is,” Maker said. “He looks like an angel, but he’s not. He’s 6’6” and a buck 20 soaking wet, but he’s a fighter too.”
“It’s a good class, there’s no question about it, but Brian is our leader in that class. I mean he’s tough, competitive and is ready for the MAAC right away because of his physique and his understanding of the game.”
Now Maker wants to see his freshmen take on a leadership role as they continue to gain college experience in their first season.
“They’re natural leaders on the court and I think sometimes both Brian and Kristinn, out of respect to some of our returning players, I think their natural instinct is to lead, but sometimes they’re tentative, reluctant to do that just out of respect, but we need that,” Maker said. “That’s the next step for this group, particularly Brian and Kristinn, just to feel comfortable in that role that they naturally do.”
“We need them. They’re the foundation for the future of this basketball program, there’s no question about it.”
Parker said he could lead more by getting his teammates to play harder and defend. In high school his team struggled in his freshman year, but took off after his sophomore year, which is something he hopes to repeat at Marist.
“We started from the bottom my freshman year in high school, so we’re hoping to do the same thing here,” Parker said. “We started from the bottom, we’re just working our way to the top.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.