EDMONTON, AB–Basketball saved Andrew Parker. Despite playing organized hoops for the first time at the age of 11 alongside his cousin Jermaine Bucknor, the game did not come naturally to Parker. He did not gravitate towards it in the same way that his cousin, now a member of the senior national team, did.
“I first played for Castledowns Community on the north side of Edmonton, and I could hardly do a lay-up! But I had a lot of energy,” said Parker.
So as the cousins grew older, and while Jermaine was exploding onto the national basketball scene as an elite player, Andrew was focused elsewhere. He got himself into trouble and was heading down the wrong path, until he rubbed shoulders with the head coach of M.E. Lazerte High School, Thom Elniski.
“He taught me about personal responsibility. He saved my life,” said Parker of the late Elniski.
As Andrew walked into a coffee shop in downtown Edmonton to meet me, you could tell that all was right in his life. He was sporting his signature hat with his initials, AGP, etched across the front, and walked with a swagger that few people in the city had this early in the morning.
But he has plenty of reasons to be happy these days. He is playing professional basketball in his hometown for the Edmonton Energy, his face is plastered on buses across the city and he gets to be around his friends and family every day after spending several years playing professionally abroad.
However, life was not always so joyous for the 28-year old Parker. Despite making his way onto several highlight reel dunk-offs in the early days of online videos, opportunities were not plentiful after high school for the 6’5 forward with springs for legs. But after consulting with Elniski, his mentor, and high school coach, he decided to play for the Concordia College Thunder in Edmonton and take a shot at playing in the ACAC against college competition.
After completing a successful year for the Thunder where he secured Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player honours, he set his sights on higher level competition. He took part in an ID Camp at the University of Alberta. It was at this time that he caught the attention of legendary Golden Bears coach Don Horwood. “It was the best tryout I have ever had,” said Parker of his showcase for the CIS squad. One thing led to another, and Parker found himself playing university ball for one of the most respected coaches in the country.
But as he was taking one step forward, migraines and a heart condition caused Parker to take a step back. He was forced to sit out the 2004 season due to his ailments, and had to watch from the sidelines. But once he was healthy, he played three full years for the Golden Bears and gave himself the opportunity to take the next step.
After graduating from the U of A, a new challenge presented itself to Andrew. Professional basketball. It was a level that he never imagined he would reach, but the opportunity presented itself to play for City Basket in Recklinghausen of the German Second Division, and he jumped at it. He was brought in as one of the few import players, and his role was clearly defined as that of a game breaker.
“I was the Kobe,” said Parker with a smile.
After spending a year in Germany, his professional path took another turn; this time south, as in South America. Rio Claro in Sau Paulo, Brazil signed him to a contract and he got the opportunity to not only play highly competitive basketball in the home land of Leandro Barbosa and Nene, but he was able to experience the amazing Brazilian culture.
“The people there are so open. It’s like a brotherhood.”
However, after his travels took him around the globe, he made his way back home and hoped to play in the PBL, but a calf injury suffered while scrimmaging with the Golden Bears put his plans on hold. So he headed back to his old stomping grounds at M.E. Lazerte to help coach the junior and senior teams. He also helped organize the Thom Elniski Tournament, in honour of his former coach who passed away in 2004.
“It was a privilege to help the kids out, and to give back to my community,” said Parker as he reminisced about his old coach and neighbourhood.
Parker went on to play for the Edmonton Chill in 2008, and currently playing for the Edmonton Energy this season.
As long as professional basketball can survive in his hometown, Andrew Parker will be one happy man.