Brian Lester, NCAA.com
Parrish West has never pointed the finger at someone else for what he has had to deal with in life.
When he was ineligible to play high school basketball after his freshman season at Morgan Park, he didn’t lay the blame on the shoulders of the public school system.
“It was all my fault that I didn’t play in high school. I was lazy,” West said without a hint of hesitation. “I always told myself that if I was given another chance to play, I would give it my all. I wasn’t going to mess up.”
When he had to learn to survive in a Chicago neighborhood plagued with gangs, gun-fire and the influence of drugs on every street corner, he refused to fall through the cracks and reject the idea of seeking out a better life.
“Growing up in Chicago was tough,” Parrish said. “Every time I stepped outside there was a chance I was going to have to fight or run from someone. I always had to watch my back and be ready to protect myself.”
West is now light years away from the world he used to live in. After playing two years at Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill., West found a new home to showcase his skills, shining as a star for Alaska-Fairbanks.
He is a senior this season, and lately, he has been in a zone, dropping in 30 or more points in six consecutive games. He has torched opponents for at least 30 in 10 games this season and is the leading scorer in Division II, averaging a cool 28.3 points per game.
West has the ability to take the ball hard to the basket and make a layup or throw down a rim-rocking dunk that energizes the crowd. The talented 6-foot-5 forward isn’t afraid to launch up shots from beyond the arc either, having made 15 treys this season.
“When I have the ball in my hands, I believe I can score,” West said. “I have a lot of confidence in my shot and my coach and teammates push me to be a great scorer.”
There was a time when Parrish wasn’t destined to become an elite college basketball player. His family moved to Chicago right before he entered middle school and it was tough to adjust.
On his walks home from school, Parrish would run into gang members and be forced to either join or fight to make it home. Parrish said he would fight because he had no intention of being part of a gang. He admits he eventually gave into the pressure but never got involved in any serious gang activity.
He used the experience to better himself as a basketball player.
“I had to be aggressive because of where I lived, but I took that aggression and anger and used it in a positive way,” Parrish said. “I used it to become a great scorer and make plays.”
Although Parrish never played four years of high school ball, he stayed sharp by playing pick-up games against fierce competition in the local parks.
He also played AAU hoops for the Illinois Warriors, the same squad Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade once played for. West had a chance to play on a team with guys like Sherron Collins and Jon Scheyer.
HCC head coach Pete Norman took notice of West and wanted him to come play for his team. The exclamation point of his junior college career was leading HCC to an Arrowhead Conference championship.
“Coach Norman gave me a shot,” West said. “I guess he liked what he saw in me.”
Norman wasn’t the only one. UAF assistant D’Arcy Stanfield saw West play in high school when he dropped 25 in a game against Percy Julian. Stanfield was the coach of Percy Julian at the time and convinced West to take his talents to Alaska. It didn’t matter that West had a few offers from smaller DI schools.
“I felt like I could handle living in a place like Alaska,” West said. “It was different, but I liked the area and it was a good situation for me. I have tried to make the best of it.”
Everything seemed set in West’s life. He was excited about taking his game to the next level but wondered if it was the right thing to do after his brother, Deante, was gunned down in front of his home in the summer of 2009.
“I lost my brother right before I went off to school,” West said. “It was hard to deal with. I knew that I had to get away from Chicago. I needed to have a better life far away from the city.”
West said his friends questioned his decision to play ball so far from home. Those opinions didn’t matter.
“I wanted to go my own route,” West said. “There is something cool about Division II basketball. I have been able to do good things for the program and it has made me a better person.”
West has also done well in the classroom after initially struggling with the academic side of college athletics.
“I fell short first semester with my grades because I was lazy for no reason,” West said. “I told myself that would not happen again. I learned how to be a good athlete and student.”
West aspires to play beyond this season but said he won’t think about that chapter of his life until after his career at UAF is finished. His focus at the moment is helping the Nanooks compete for a spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.
There are still times when West can’t believe where this journey has taken him. He thanks God every day that things have worked out for him.
“If I wasn’t here, I would be locked up or dead,” West said. “To be able to wake up every morning and not worry about having to watch my back is a good feeling. You don’t have to stay in a bad situation. There is another life out there. I took advantage of it and I enjoy it.”