By Taylor Clayton
Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Jrue Holiday, these are just a handful of players who have played college basketball under UCLA head coach Ben Howland and have since gone on to have success in the NBA.
Although UCLA’s program has hit a stumbling block in recent years it is still a factory for producing NBA players. Two of its recent players, Tyler Honeycutt and Malcom Lee, were drafted last year. Needless to say, if you perform well at UCLA you’re going to get noticed by the NBA.
Last season, sophomore De’End Parker caught the eye of Bruins coach Howland when he won the state championship for City College by connecting on a go-ahead tip in with 2.4 seconds left. His play led the Rams to an 83-81 victory and their first state trophy in 49 years.
Parker was recruited by Howland and committed to UCLA.
During his last year at City College, Parker’s foster mother, Carmen Johnson, had been struggling with heart and health problems. Parker left for UCLA, but was concerned about her health.
Parker is the youngest of seven kids. His biological mother had struggled to take care of him as a child due to drug addictions. He and two of his young siblings were raised by Johnson from an early age.
“At the time (my foster mother) was my biological mother’s best friend.” said Parker. “I didn’t know what was going on, I was only 2, but she said to her if anything happened to me, you get the youngest three kids of the seven.
“To me it all worked out fine. My mom had a lot of problems going on and she wasn’t stable enough to take care of us. And then this wonderful lady takes us in and she showed me how to be a man, and my sisters how to be proper young ladies.”
“She’s left alone at her house, and she always has to worry about doing everything and cleaning everything herself,” he said. “It’s not good for her heart. All of my brothers and sisters are grown-up now, they have families, so no one is really there to help her.”
Parker sustained injuries before his first season at UCLA to his knee and suffered a concussion. His time away from the court helped him stay connected with his foster mother.
“I would always try to get a hold of my mom and see how she was doing, but she would never really tell me,” said Parker. “She just said things like I’m going to be alright, everything’s good.
“When I went back home for Christmas break she finally told me she had a lot of fluid in her lungs.”
Without hesitation, Parker left UCLA and came back to San Francisco to be with Johnson. He says she’s had colon cancer before and has told him that she’s starting to feel the same way she did when she originally had cancer. She will have to have a colonoscopy.
With UCLA now in the past, Parker was able to reflect on his time being a Bruin.
“Coach Howland is like a teacher, he likes teaching a lot of things,” he said. “For the most part I had a lot of fun at UCLA. It was a great school. I got along with all the players and all the coaches. But you know when somethings going on with your mom… I don’t know how everyone else is, but especially knowing what she did for me in all my years, it’s (my) first priority.”
Parker has moved back home, committing to play next year at the University of San Francisco. There were many Bay Area colleges where he could have chosen to play, ones with much better basketball programs, but basketball is not what’s important to him now.
“Number one: it is closest (to Johnson),” said Parker. “It’s literally like 10 blocks away from my house. I watched (the USF Dons) a little when I was growing up and I always felt I wanted to get away. There’s not a lot of exposure in San Francisco, and I was born and raised here, so for me it was going out there and trying to get some exposure.”
Despite not getting the same recognition he would have gotten at UCLA, Parker feels optimistic about what he can accomplish at his new school.
“Their coach used to play in the (NBA) so he’s going to push you, he’s going to get you over that hump that you need to get over,” he said. “He’s going to let you make plays. Just from watching their games I can tell what kind of coach he is and he’s going to get you fired up and make you play hard.”
Because of the injuries he suffered just before entering UCLA Parker was able to play in just 2 games, scoring eight points and grabbing two rebounds. He has since been granted a medical redshirt, also known as a hardship waiver, which will extend his athletic eligibility and allow him to play two full seasons at USF.
With his foster mother only a couple of blocks away, he hopes she will be able to watch him play.