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Flames Feature: Saving Her Best For Last
Although it is important to give a positive first impression, it is often the last impression which is indelibly associated with an individual or an event, for better or worse. For example, the name John F. Kennedy will forever evoke images of the fateful motorcade in Dallas. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan's prolific scoring ability has always been overshadowed by his abundant game-winning shots.
Liberty senior Michelle Parker is doing all she can to leave a positive, lasting impression in the minds of the Lady Flames' enthusiasts with her stellar play this season. Parker displayed her considerable potential and ability in brief flashes throughout the first three years of her career. Her dynamic abilities have always made her a valuable player to have on the floor, as evidenced by the fact Parker is quietly on pace to eclipse Daina Staugaitiene's program record for career games played.
As a senior, Parker's skills are now being fully realized and exhibited on a more consistent basis. As a result, she has earned the coveted title of starting point guard for much of this season.
The native of Miami, Fla., has excelled in the role, averaging career-highs in points, assists and rebounds. Her success in the latter category has been notable and is one of her proudest accomplishments. "I want to be known for my rebounding ability as a guard," commented the shortest player on the Liberty squad, standing just 5-6. Parker has pulled down more rebounds than anyone not named Frazee on the Lady Flames' roster this season.
After recording more turnovers than assists during each of her first three seasons, Parker is doing an admirable job of running the Liberty offense. The senior, who has led the Big South Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio for the better part of the current season, remarked, "I've been able to penetrate a lot more this year. I've also been seeing the floor better.
"I have just been going out and playing basketball," continued Parker. "My basketball IQ is a lot higher than it had been before." The senior's penetration and court vision have led to numerous open shots for her teammates. Parker ranks in the top five of the Big South assist list and dished out nine helpers during a Jan. 2 win over American. No Lady Flame had recorded as many assists in a game since the start of the 2002-03 season.
Parker is even more effective as a playmaker due to the fact she is ambidextrous. She writes with her left hand, but shoots the basketball equally as well with either hand. "That ability came naturally, even at a young age," explained the diminutive guard. "Which hand I use depends on which side the defense is guarding me from."
Likewise, head coach Carey Green is able to enjoy the luxury of having a pair of experienced, complementary point guards from which to choose, depending on the situation. Junior Allyson Fasnacht, a first-team all-Big South performer a season ago, opened the year as the Lady Flames' starting floor general, but took on a reserve role after Parker's early-season emergence. While such a move could divide some teams, Parker insists that having two talented performers at the same position is a positive thing for Liberty.
"Allyson's more of an organized player," observed Parker, who is pursuing the same major as Fasnacht, sport management. "I'm more of a ‘get it and go' player and have more of a scorer's mentality. Our styles are very different. She lacks what I have, and I lack what she has."
Leadership, on and off the court, is something Fasnacht is known for. Meanwhile, Parker has focused on developing and improving her own leadership skills. As a senior, she lists it as one of her primary individual goals for this season. She noted, "I want people to realize I can lead and have the capability to do it effectively."
Developing her leadership abilities will not only be invaluable during Liberty's quest for an 11th-consecutive Big South Championship, but will also prepare Parker to succeed in her post-Liberty aspirations. Upon graduation in May, Parker would like to become a basketball coach.
In fact, the senior has already planned out some of the most important lessons she hopes to impart to her future players. "First and foremost, you must know the fundamentals of the game," explained Parker. "You have to be fully committed to what you're going to do and need to strive to be the best you can be. That mentality has to be there. You need to strive for excellence."
Parker has had to live out those principles in her own life in order to get where she is now, both athletically and academically. Looking back at the 18-year-old who began her four years at Liberty in the fall of 2003, Parker realized, "There was a lot for me to learn. However, I was pretty determined that I was going to graduate from college. That desire forced me to be diligent and consistent and to always strive for my best."
Parker's hard work in the classroom has paid off. She is on track to complete her academic requirements in exactly four years and receive her bachelor's degree in May. The guard also helped the Lady Flames tie for the 14th-highest GPA among the nation's Division I women's basketball teams a season ago.
Although Parker played a role in Liberty becoming one of the top 16 academic teams in America, her fondest memory of her collegiate playing career came during her sophomore season, when the Lady Flames reached the Sweet 16 on the court. The guard contributed four points during Liberty's second-round upset of DePaul, but remembers more about what it took for she and her teammates to achieve the highly sought after goal.
"The Sweet 16 was a very good experience," recalled Parker. "It taught me that you have to be proactive. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve something like that."
Another thing the Sweet 16 did for the Lady Flames was to raise the team's standards and expectations, internally and externally. Now that Liberty has reached the prestigious level once, the goal is to return there on a more consistent basis.
For Parker, she and her fellow seniors—Jamie Feagin, Leslie Jones and Karolina Piotrkiewicz—have one last shot to accomplish the lofty objective. A return visit to the Sweet 16 would certainly provide the type of last impression Parker would like to leave for the Liberty fans. This desire has provided inspiration for the ambidextrous guard to save her best season for last.
By Paul Carmany
Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director