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Former Aspen hoops standout Parker embracing challenges at Drake

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

The Aspen High gym used to be his playground.It was where he wore out nets and opposing defenses. Where he became a clutch performer and a fan favorite. Where he helped an oft-forgotten hoops program become a state title contender.Cory Parker guided Aspen to its first 23-win season and a berth in the state semifinals in 2008. Now, as his former team prepares for another impressive postseason run, the self-effacing former star 3As Mr. Basketball and the Western Slopes player of the year one year ago is confronting challenges of his own at Division I Drake University in Iowa.Im starting to get the hang of things and really enjoying myself, Parker said Thursday from his hotel room in St. Louis, where the Bulldogs were participating in Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. I had a good idea of what this was going to be like, but its one thing to hear about it and another thing to actually experience it.It has been nearly one year since Parker formally committed to Drake, which made the NCAA tournament and was ranked as high as 15th in last seasons Associated Press poll. In the months since, he endured a coaching change that raised concerns about his deferred walk-on status, made the difficult decision to redshirt and continues to try to adjust to his new role and distinguish himself in a talent-rich program. It has been quite a learning experience, Parker said.It has been tough and has been non-stop, but its good, he said. Thats what I wanted and what I came here for.Basketball is at a whole other level here. Its pretty unbelievable, actually. Its a lot different than 3A Colorado basketball.The preseason consisted of daily 7 a.m. weightlifting sessions, grueling one-hour skill workouts with three to four other players, full practices and hour-long film sessions in addition to a full slate of classes. Parker is currently enrolled in the business school.Parker admits that he struggled to keep pace during the first semester. The tempo was like none he had ever experienced. And the pressure to be stronger and quicker left a player who routinely and fearlessly called for the ball with the game on the line questioning his confidence. Everyone on the court is the best athlete from their hometown, and its tough to keep up, Parker said. In the summer, I did a bunch of conditioning and other stuff to get ready but nothing compared to what we were doing [here].Parker harbored no visions of stepping in and being a key contributor right away. Therefore, he wasnt surprised when coaches opted to redshirt him. After discussions with his parents and his high school coach, Steve Ketchum, among others, Parker said he agreed the decision was the right one.Since I wasnt going to be able to get much playing time anyway this year, they decided it would be good to let my body develop and get stronger and more comfortable with the whole basketball thing, he said. With this year to develop more, Ill be more prepared for the next four years.While he fully comprehends the bigger picture, biding his time on the bench is an unfamiliar and frustrating proposition, Parker said. Ive never been the guy that sits on the bench, so its always tough, he added. I keep telling myself it will all pay off, that I have to pay my [dues] like every one of these guys did. I have to be patient and work my way up. Theres always stuff to learn and improve on. Its been a humbling experience, but I accepted it pretty quickly.Im not the man anymore. Im one of many men on the court.Parker has embraced his new teammates and the chance to experience all that D-I hoops has to offer even if it is from a court-side seat.He remembers the seasons first home game against Butler the Knapp Center being packed to capacity, the lights being turned out for player introductions. He remembers his teammates silencing 12,000 Creighton fans during a victorious trip to Omaha, traveling to Cancun, Mexico, for an early-season tournament and having friends text him after spotting him on ESPN. He frequently gets caught up in the moment.I dream about coach looking down at me and saying, Cory, youre in. I think about that every day, every game we play, every time I put on the jersey, Parker said. Its a goal and a fantasy, something Ive written down in my room. Its something Ill always be working for every day of my life.Those goals include accumulating a 3.5 GPA and one day being a starter for the Bulldogs. The list sits on Parkers desk and is always in plain view. Its a constant reminder and a constant motivator. Parker hardly needs it. He has been dreaming about this opportunity since he was young, and he has proved his fair share of doubters wrong in the past.You never know whats going to happen, which is the great part. It always gives you something to work for, Parker said. I know there are no guarantees. I always have something to prove to the coaching staff and myself. If I keep working, good things will come.While he continues to juggle a heavy work load, Parker still finds time to check up on his friends and former teammates. He routinely talks with Ketchum and has kept a close eye on Aspen this season.This years Skiers have a fan in Des Moines.Parker said he frequently receives post-game texts from junior guard Matthew Holmes, and is quick to offer up a few words of encouragement. Parker is eagerly anticipating some good news today, when the top-ranked Skiers open regional play against Bayfield at 7 p.m.Its truly amazing what theyve been doing this year, he added. I look forward to hearing how they do. If they keep calm and keep their heads, they can do some damage.jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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