Parks turns struggles into strength on court

South Dakota State University star guard, Deondre Parks, is working on his leadership as a senior and as the Jackrabbits have their sights set on making the NCAA Tournament.

Parks saw his first action of the season Monday night when the Jacks took on Weber State. He was sidelined due to a groin injury in the Jacks’ first game of the season. He scored 16 points in 33 minutes in the 85-68 Jackrabbit victory. 

Parks is coming off a strong first season where he started all 35 games. He averaged a team-high of 14.1 points per game. He also averaged 1.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. He was named Summit League Newcomer of the Year and is a preseason All-Summit League first-team for 2015-2016.

The Jackrabbits finished the season last year with an overall record of 24-11 and 12-4 in the Summit League, where they won the regular season title but came up one point short against Norht Dakota State in the Summit League Tournament Championship.

“Our goals as a team this year are to make the NCAA Tournament and just be as tough as a team as we can be,” Parks said. “Personal goal, be a leader for the younger guys and also the older guys who look to you for direction.”

It wasn’t until he lost his brother in 2010 in a robbery that had gone wrong that he realized it was time to get out of the city that had been taken over by guns, gangs and drugs.

“It was rough, went through a lot of trials and tribulations. I lost a couple friends growing up. Death was a big part of family growing up. It hit me that it’s time to get out of here and start a new chapter in my life,” Parks said. “It impacted me a lot but, I’m a big boy now, and I got to do what’s best for me, and I think taking the less stress off my mom was a great decision for me.” 

He packed his bags and went down to Columbus, Ga. so he could get far away from his hometown of Flint. He attended Kingdom Prep Academy, a preparatory Catholic school, for his senior year of high school and became a new person.

“It involved Jesus Christ, going to church every Sunday, bible study, waking up praying and going to bed praying,” Parks said. “I would say my commitment to Jesus Christ was the biggest impact.”

He would help Kingdom Prep win the National Association of Christian Athletics Division-III national title. He would graduate Kingdom Prep with a GPA above 3.0 in 2012.

After high school, he traveled to Estherville, Iowa where he would play for Iowa Lakes Community College the next two seasons.

He was a third team NJCAA All-American as a freshman and a first team All-American his sophomore season. Early in his sophomore season, he signed his letter of intent to play for SDSU.

“Scott Nagy kept it up front with me and told me how things would go and how he would want me to play, and they were very consistent.” Parks said.

Parks said senior forward Jake Bittle, who is now Parks’ roommate, made a great impression on him during his visit. 

Bittle knew right away they would be good friends after Parks’ visit. 

“I dropped him off back at the hotel after eating with the team and as he gets out he says, ‘man I think there’s a hook in my butt.’ Totally forgot I had my fishing poles in the back of my car, so I had to pry this hook out of his boxers, and I don’t know this guy at all,” Bittle said. “Stuff like that made us click right away.” 

Nagy has nothing but praise for the senior forward.

“On the floor he’s our most complete player. He’s a tremendous defender, very good rebounder, doesn’t turn the ball over a lot,” Nagy said. “He’s probably the most complete player we have.”

Parks transitioned very well to Division-I play even though the competition got a lot tougher.

“We don’t recruit junior college a lot because I do think it is a tough adjustment. It’s like having a freshman,” Nagy said. “Of all the ones we’ve ever had, he ,by far, made the quickest adjustment.” 

Parks is majoring in human development and family studies and is on track to graduate this spring. He plans to go back and help the city of Flint when his playing career is over.

“I would love to play pro. I’m thinking of giving back to the community and counseling kids that grew up in the same environment as me,” Parks said.

Parks has faced many obstacles on his journey to where he is today. Instead of sulking, he has let it shape and motivate him.

“It made me a tough guy who wanted to get to the gym. This is where I get my anger out,” Parks said. “I want to give back to make an impact on some kid’s life.”