Temple recruiting class of 2018 commit Arashma Parks poses for a photo inside the Owls' locker room.
(Temple University Athletics)
Arashma Parks comes from a basketball family. His mother, Teresita Jones-Thomas, received a full basketball scholarship to Youngstown St. University. His older brother Omari Spellman, a star freshman at Villanova University, was ranked as the 18th best player in the country by ESPN. Taiyier Parks, his younger sister, has a load of offers and was given a 90 overall grade by ESPN's rankings of the women's basketball class of 2019.
But Parks didn’t play basketball growing up -- he was a football player.
“His dad played football,” his mom, Jones-Thomas, said. “After talking to him, and I didn't know this until talking to him about a year or so ago, he always wanted to play football because he wanted his relationship with his father who played football both in high school and college. He wanted to be in the area of football to have a bonding experience with him.”
As a result, throughout elementary school and middle school, Parks played football. While his brother and sister played basketball, that was never in his plans. He would still follow his family around to basketball events even though he wouldn’t play. His mother remembers one particular time when, at his sister's AAU tournament, a basketball coach came up to Parks, questioning why he was on the sidelines. The AAU coach wondered, at Parks’ size (he is now listed at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds), why didn’t he play basketball?
That got Parks thinking. So much so that when high school came along, he dropped football altogether. Basketball now called Parks’ name. It was in his family's blood and football's time had passed.
“It just happened naturally,” Parks remembered. “I knew that once I stopped having fun with football, it was my time. I moved on to a different sport. It was so big that I had to sit down with my family and talk it over it with them to make sure I wanted to do basketball.”
Three years later, Arashma Parks is a Division 1 basketball commit. It's not often that a player who only started playing basketball seriously his freshman year of high school is able to earn a scholarship from the fifth winningest program in NCAA history.
Parks was in good hands, however, as his relationship with his brother helped to crystallize his new interest. From a young age, they would go to the park around their house in the Cleveland area of Ohio and shoot baskets, running off the kids who couldn't keep up with the brothers’ athletic abilities. Their relationship also surpassed basketball. Jones-Thomas described them as best friends.
“They look to each other a lot even though Omari is the older brother,” she said.
When Parks fully committed to basketball, he started in Spellman's AAU program, the PSA Cardinals. Past PSA Cardinal teams (formerly known as Team Scan) had featured players like Kentucky freshman Quade Green, Brooklyn Net Chris McCullough, and New Orleans Pelican Cheick Diallo. Now Parks, who had never really played basketball, would be joining a long list of former, present, and future NBA players.
“Before I could score or rebound, I tried to run the floor,” Parks said of when he first joined the PSA Cardinals. “They knew I was a hard worker, so I just stuck with it.”
If Parks was really going to commit to playing basketball at the collegiate level, the family decided that prep school would be the best option. Moving far away from his home in Ohio, Parks had two choices, The MacDuffie School, where Spellman was headed, or Springfield Commonwealth Academy, which had been founded in 2011. Commonwealth had ironically been built over the land of MacDuffie's former campus (it had been destroyed by a tornado, forcing them to relocate) and was intended to serve the “less affluent.” While most prep schools are majority white, Commonwealth was also built to be intentionally diverse, with 61% students of color. The new school was enticing and different.
This time, Parks didn’t follow Spellman to MacDuffie. He would go on his own path, enrolling at the little known Commonwealth Academy to play under the successful high school basketball coach, Tony Bergeron. Bergeron had previously coached at New York City public school, Wings Academy, steering them to a Top 25 USA Today appearance, and American Christian Academy, where Tyreke Evans had flourished under his direction.
When Parks joined Commonwealth, he was the spark plug of something new. Along with the likes of Hasahn French, who is now at Saint Louis University, and Shyheim Hicks, now at LIU Brooklyn, the prep school defied expectations. Despite being only a few years old, in 2016, they would finish 23-5. In 2017, they were granted the opportunity to play in the National Prep Championship, where they were selected as one of the Top 5 teams in the country, giving themselves a first round bye.
All the while, Parks had only been playing basketball for a few years. Even though he was still learning, he was asked to compete on one of the top prep teams and AAU programs in the country. From the jump, Parks would have to fight for every minute against players who had played the sport for their entire life. As a result, he was largely a role player, playing “two minutes here, three minutes there,” he said.
Still however, there was clear potential in the minutes that he did receive.
“6-foot-9, 240-pound wide body, big shoulders, rebounding big guy,” said Brian Shanahan, his new coach at The Phelps School, where Parks transferred to his senior season. “He's a true post player. So for me that's what's intriguing about him. His potential is outstanding. He moves well, he's strong, but he still hasn’t played a ton of basketball so he's still developing.”
He caught the eyes of the Temple coaching staff when they saw him play during his junior season at Commonwealth. In addition to his reported 7-foot-1 wingspan, they noticed the future in the young man's game.
“They saw me at school,” Parks remembered. “The assistant coach, coach [Chris] Clark, he has been hitting me up ever since. He came to the majority of my games during the school year and summer. We have just been talking on a daily basis. He has been a big part of why I committed to Temple.”
While Parks had interest and offers from George Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida, Butler, Massachusetts, and St. Louis, it was Temple who stayed on Parks. They seemed truly interested in having Parks as a part of the program.
“Consistency,” Parks said of what stuck out about Temple's recruitment. “They wouldn’t just talk with me for one day, and then not for the rest of the week. They talked to me everyday. They made sure I was okay and they made sure that if I had a game, they would be there. They really just seemed interested.”
Jones-Thomas saw the same interest from the program. But she was also intrigued by the coaching staff and what they instilled in their players.
“I liked that Temple had a variety of things on their staff,” she said. “They had coach Dunphy, who was like the monarch, the leader. And he personified himself as the leader. He built great confidence when I was around him. Coach Chris was very family oriented... And then I looked at the players they had, they always said hello. They shook our hands when we came on the visit. So all of those things cultivated in my mind that said he's teaching them that it's more than basketball.”
After coach Dunphy saw Parks play, Temple pulled the trigger, offering a scholarship to the young man from Ohio. While he took some time to think about the deal, it didn’t take long for him to make his decision. He knew where he wanted to be.
So he picked up the phone and called his brother Omari.
“When it came for him to make the decision to go to Temple, he called Omari first, before he even told me,” his mom, Jones-Thomas, remembered. “That's a testament to their relationship.”
Prior to Parks even committing to Temple's recruiting class of 2018, he had decided that he wouldn’t be attending his senior year at Commonwealth. Instead, he would be going to The Phelps School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where he would play under Shanahan, who had also coincidentally walked on at Temple about a decade ago.
When Parks made the transition to The Phelps School, he knew his role was going to have to change. He was no longer going to be the role player that had been asked of him during his time playing for the PSA Cardinals and Commonwealth. As one of few, if not the only one, with a Division 1 offer, at Phelps, Parks would be relied on to score and defend the opposing team's top big man.
“For us, this will be new for Arashma,” Shanahan said. “Arashma has played on some high level teams and been a little bit of a role player for them at times. He's played with some outstanding players. Now, I’m going to ask him to be a starter, play a bulk of minutes, and be a key piece to our success here at The Phelps School.”
Since his commitment and his enrollment at Phelps, Parks has grown both emotionally and physically.
“He's taking more of a leadership role and he's more confident in his talk because before, we used to have to pull it out of him,” Jones-Thomas added. “Now when we talk, he's leading the conversation and he's passionate about how he's going to get better. I think he's taking a weight lifting class this semester at The Phelps School just to work on his body, his core. And that's truly after he went on a visit and saw the collegiate guys at Temple and he's like ‘Ma, they’re big’...When he saw the guys at Temple, he's like, ‘oh, yeah, I need to get in the gym.’ It’s not as far as making layups. It’s the physicality of it all.”
After living in Massachusetts the past three years, Parks’ move to Phelps puts him closer to his brother at Villanova and family in North Royalton, Ohio. While he has always wanted to write his own path, the new proximity to his family cannot be ignored. His mother no longer has to choose between which state she'll go to to visit her kids. For the next few years, they’ll be nearby once again.
“Even his decision to go to a prep school in Philadelphia, he wanted to be closer to his brother.” Jones-Thomas said. “He wants to be his own person and not live in the shadow of Omari, but still live close enough that there's a level of comfort like ‘hey my brother can get to me and help me if I need it because my mom is six hours away.’ So he chose to move closer to Omari and finish up his high school career.”
Now, after Parks’ commitment to Temple, the brothers will be squaring off every year, and maybe even sticking each other, in one of college basketball's greatest rivalries. It's crazy to think that they’ll be going at it at the Division 1 level, just a couple years after Arashma Parks started to play basketball.