Boys' Prep Player of the Week : Parker's Much More Than a Playground Player

Times Staff Writer

Leo Parker's first experience in organized basketball was as a sophomore on Tustin High School's varsity. He admits he approached the season with a touch of arrogance.

"I thought I was going to come in and dominate," said Parker, now a senior. "I was always able to dominate on the playgrounds. I figured out pretty quick that I had a lot to learn."

Parker, The Times' player of the week, is now the one giving the lessons.

Last week, he scored 42 points in two games, including 16 points in Tustin's 62-53 victory over rival Foothill. In that game, he scored eight points in the second quarter, when the Tillers erased a 19-13 deficit with a 26-12 run.

"I feel that I've made up for my late start," said Parker, a 6-foot 6-inch center/forward. "I've put in a lot of extra time and tried to improve my overall game."

Parker didn't play before his sophomore season because he and his parents thought it would take time away from his religion.

"We're Jehovah's Witnesses, and my parents felt there wouldn't be enough time to play sports," he said. "But, when I got to high school, it (sports) was something I wanted to do. We decided to find the time for both."

The first season was a struggle. Although Parker averaged 7.5 points per game, he was uncomfortable on the court.

"It wasn't like the playgrounds, where you dribble the length of the court and take three steps for a layup," he said. "I had to learn to play with my back to the basket and work on my fundamentals. It was hard and frustrating, but I wanted to get better."

He started hanging around the gym more, playing one-on-one against teammate Rog Middleton--an all-county player. Parker's extra work began to pay off the next season, as he averaged 14 points per game.

Last summer, Parker doubled his efforts, working out twice a day.

In the morning, he drove to Santa Ana High School, where the gym was open from 9 to noon. In the evenings, he played at Tustin.

"I lived in the gym last summer," he said. "I'd leave early in the morning, come home to eat, then go play again.

"What's really helped is playing against quality players--Rog and then Bobby Joyce (of Santa Ana). It's the best way to improve."

Tom McCluskey, Tustin's first-year coach, has been impressed with Parker's desire to improve.

"When I first saw him play, I could tell he didn't have that much experience," McCluskey said. "But, I could also tell he had a great deal of talent. He's out there working and learning every day. I think he will be a very good college player."

But Parker's immediate concern is making this season a special one.

"This is my last year of high school," he said, "I want to make an impact."

The way he used to on the playgrounds.

Leo Parker

Tustin High School

Position: Center/forward.

Height, Weight, Class: 6-6, 180, Sr.

Last Week: Scored 42 points in two games, including a 16-point performance in Tustin's 62-53 victory over Foothill.

Season: Parker is averaging 22 points and 9 rebounds per game.

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