Aspen star Cory Parker picks Drake | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen star Cory Parker picks Drake

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN It seems everyone surrounding Cory Parker is a guidance counselor. An average of 10 people approach the Aspen basketball standout every day, inquiring about his future plans.He finally has a definitive answer. A few days before the biggest game of his young career – the Skiers host Bennett in the first round of the state tournament Friday at 7 p.m. – the senior made the biggest decision of his life Monday night, committing to Drake University in Iowa.”I am really looking forward to it, and I felt like it was the best fit for me,” the likely two-time All-State selection said Tuesday. “Everything ended up perfect. I’m really excited.”Parker, who is averaging more than 20 points and six rebounds a game for the 20-2 Skiers, is the program’s first player to make the leap from high school directly to Division I, coach Steve Ketchum said Tuesday. The decision was influenced in part by Drake’s recent success. The Bulldogs, currently ranked 21st in the country and first in the highly-competitive Missouri Valley Conference, have recorded 25 wins for the first time since 1969. They’ve been ranked as high as 15th in The Associated Press poll and appear to be a lock for an NCAA tournament berth.Drake has been ranked for seven consecutive weeks. Included in that stretch was a win over then No. 8 Butler on Feb. 23.”Them being finally noticed and doing so well, that’s what you want,” Parker said. “It’s Division I. That was my ultimate goal, playing at the highest level possible.” The 6 foot, 7 inch Parker garnered a lot of attention last season when he averaged 23.5 points and nine rebounds per game and was the unanimous choice for 3A Western Slope MVP. He was inundated with letters and phone calls from interested college programs across the country.Drake didn’t enter the conversation until the end of this past summer, however. The school’s interest was both flattering and overwhelming, Parker said.”The constant hounding showed me they really wanted me,” he added. “It meant a lot to me being wanted.”A visit to the Des Moines campus during his Christmas break further strengthened Parker’s opinion of the school and the program. Drake quickly rose to the top of a list that included Northern Colorado in Greeley, Denver University, Northern State University in South Dakota and Trinity University in San Antonio.In light of the program’s increased visibility, Drake has been inundated with inquiries from players interested in filling vacant roster spots. As a result, coaches recently pressed Parker for an answer.He made his decision Monday night.”Last night, I officially talked to the coach and told him, ‘I really want to go to Drake and play for you guys,'” Parker said. “I was waiting as long as I could until they wanted an answer. … Drake was at the top of my list for the last couple weeks. I talked to my parents, and they were behind me 100 percent.”Ketchum heard the news Tuesday morning.”This is uncharted territory, and it’s very exciting for the program, for Cory and for the whole school,” the coach added. “He knows what’s ahead of him. … He has to be willing to pay the price to make himself better. He’s got a such a great work ethic that he has the potential to work his way up and play on that really high level.”While he was not offered a full scholarship, Parker will be a preferred walk-on in 2008-2009. By virtue of his grades and test scores, the school gave him an academic scholarship. Parker’s spot on the Bulldogs’ roster is secure. His playing time, coaches told Parker, will be up to him.”It will depend on how much work I’m willing to put into it, and how much I improve in the summer to come,” Parker said. “Coach said it’s basically up to me to play as a true freshman and get some minutes here and there. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll do as much as I can to get some playing time. I know that’s a lot to ask, especially with the success they’re having.”The announcement comes at an opportune time for the fourth-ranked Skiers as they prepare for a run to Fort Collins, Ketchum said.”I think it was a burden for everybody. He was asked every day and every week about this,” Ketchum added. “This is a big weight off his shoulders and the team.”Parker agreed. He’s grateful he has an answer for curious bystanders – “It will end conversations quickly,” he joked – and can focus solely on the objective Aspen has been pursuing all season.”It’s a huge decision, but I’m happy with it and I have no regrets,” he said. “Now, I can definitely focus on my ultimate goal of getting a state championship. Knowing I’ve got a great place to go definitely helps.”jmaletz@aspentimes.com