In his six seasons back at Liberty, head coach Ritchie McKay has frequently turned to the grad transfer market to fill in immediate gaps on his teams. Anthony Fields, Ray Chen, and Keenan Gumbs have all filled valuable roles in McKay’s building of the Liberty program.
“Each one of those had a different role,” McKay said. “Anthony, his integrity, his maturity glued us together. Ray, selflessness. He was so well loved and our guys knew how popular he was internationally, but he sacrificed minutes, all that, in order to be a part of something that was bigger than himself. Keenan, he was a tough, stabilizing, athletic energizer who I think showed great humility that was infections amongst our group.”
This season, McKay once again went to that well and brought in Chris Parker from Division II Henderson State. Parker helped lead Henderson State to a conference tournament title in 2020 after averaging 15.3 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.8 rebounds last season. He averaged double figures all three of his seasons at Henderson State before transferring to Liberty.
“Chris, he’s definitely had the greatest impact from a numbers standpoint,” McKay said of the grad transfers he’s brought in. “We were able to shift our offense a bit because of how talented Chris Parker is. He came from Henderson State where he was the man. He took all the shots, but to embrace the role of, ‘Hey, I’ve got to be just as much of a distributor as I am a scorer, if not more, and I’ve got to play defense in this system,’ that’s hard. He’s taken on that challenge and continued to improve. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
Parker has started 21 of 22 games for Liberty this season. He’s averaging 10.3 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47.4% from the field and 38.3% from three point range.
“He’s been really good for us,” McKay said of Parker earlier this season. “You never know what to expect (with a transfer). There was some trepidation. I never saw him play live. I had no idea (what to expect). Sure, we talked on the phone a bunch and even on the computer screen, but when you spend face to face time, you really get to know a person. When you watch a game, you can tell if you make a shot, if you can defend your player, but there’s other stuff that is so important to us.”
Parker comes from a basketball family. His father, Charlie Parker, is a professional basketball coach and was also the head coach at Southern Cal as well as spending 13 seasons in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Hornets. He’s grown up around the game and around professional players, but this season he took on the difficult task of trying to learn the Packline defense Liberty employs.
“The Packline, it’s definitely been something, but that’s probably the most rewarding,” Parker says of the defensive system and his lone season at Liberty. “I can put that on my resume – I graduated with the Packline defense. I think I can carry that going into my pro career and know that I was part of a really good defensive team. I think that’s where I grew the most (this year). It’s probably the most rewarding. I know a couple years from now, I will appreciate all the defense they taught me.”
Due to the NCAA not counting this basketball season against players’ eligibility, Parker could choose to return to the Flames next season before beginning his pro career. Without Parker in the lineup this season, Liberty would not likely be competing for a third straight ASUN championship. The Flames have just two more home games remaining on the schedule as Parker will be one of four seniors honored for Tuesday’s senior game against North Alabama.
“He’s been really, really special,” McKay said of Parker. “He’s just got this knack, and he doesn’t always show it. He kind of waits and waits and waits, and then when he thinks it’s necessary he floors it. When he floors it, he’s really good. What I love most about him is he’s created opportunities for other guys that has really been necessary for our offense to flow the way it has.”