As the expression goes, “Home is where the heart is.” You get to see family, old friends, but one of the things that can also come with it is expectations.
This is where USF guard De’End Parker comes in.
It is rare to see a San Francisco athlete make it into a marquee sport and succeed; San Francisco athlete meaning someone who was born and/or raised in the city limits. When someone asks what school you went to and they respond with the high school, then you know you have a City native.
There are few and many of them are from yesteryear. Stories of Joe DiMaggio at Galileo High School or Bob St. Clair at the now-debunked Polytechnic High have been passed down through the generations. Sure Bill Russell went to USF but he wasn’t from San Francisco.
The San Francisco native graduated from Lincoln High School in 2009, went to City College of San Francisco for two seasons, transferred to UCLA for one year, played in the San Francisco Basketball Pro-Am, and now is playing for the lone Division I team in the city. So why is there attention for Parker? This is why and he is embracing it.
“When you play Division-I basketball and you’re able to be on TV and stuff like that, people when they see that they come more,” Parker said. “Even more support. I don’t care if you weren’t there from Day 1 to Day 30, so long as you come and support, you’re a fan of mine.”
The San Francisco native did not grow up in the best of areas. The Fillmore District is home to a number of low-income families and violence followed in the area. It is because of that Parker has embraced the attention and hopes it can give some a glimmer of hope.
“I want people to see there is somebody out of San Francisco that is making something out of their lives,” he said. “Going up where I grew up, you’re not going to see a lot of people make it out of there. I just want to set the example.”
“I want to be an example to young kids to let them know there is another way out.”
The pressure is there to do well and it was felt early on.
The first two games for San Francisco were not pretty. The USF offense looked discombobulated against Stanford in the season opener and then committed 17 turnovers against Division-II Cal State East Bay. This included Parker.
He was rushing shots and not being patient. The 6-foot-6 guard shot 5-for-15 against Stanford and was 2-for-5 from the free throw line.
It was ugly but even through that ugliness, they picked up a win and kept pace with a predicted top-4 Pac-12 team. But the offense really started to click when the Dons arrived in the nation’s capital to take on American.
Now, Parker has done nothing but get more comfortable as he is going through his first few games on The Hilltop.
“I think the Stanford game and Cal State East Bay game, we weren’t really finding each other,” Parker said. “When we went to American, I felt it on the court that we were more together, more dialed in…We’ve learned where to give guys the ball, who has the hot hand.”
Parker has been the one with the hot hand and has seen his point total increase in each of the first four games, capping it off with 31 points in a 20-point drubbing of a very talented Columbia team.
“Just being in front of family and friends, you want to do your best,” Parker said. “I needed to settle in and in the past few games I’ve got comfortable in the system. Picking spots better, knowing I don’t have to iso every time, I don’t have to rush the shot, just picking and choosing spots better is working best for me.”
Parker is averaging more than 20 points per game through his first four contests and is shooting 54 percent from the field. Now some guys get their numbers but can be a detriment to their team. That is not Parker and it is one of the things Head Coach Rex Walters praises about him.
“He’s really coachable. He genuinely tries to do what we ask him to do,” Walters said. “Now everybody can be on the same page because they see where his heart really is. His heart is about winning and being a team guy. With that, there comes an awful lot of talent so our guys are happy for him when he’s scoring.”
Parker carries the weight and pride of a city on his shoulders but he also seems to be the perfect guy for the job.
The impact of USF’s Cancun trip in September is already paying dividends. The Dons were able to get in an extra 10 practices while on the trip and grew closer as a team, something both coaches and players have found invaluable.
“Other schools who don’t have that trip, they get to workout or whatever, but that bond helped us early,” Parker said. “Now we don’t’ have to wait til the 12th game to start clicking. Now third, fourth, fifth game now we’re putting all the pieces together and everything like that. That trip motivated us a lot. We were able to find each other and be able to click sooner than later.”
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer