• December 13, 2019
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Queens Chronicle

Smush Parker took the long way back

HS star has number retired after lengthy, well-traveled pro career

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Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:46 pm, Thu Dec 5, 2019.

In 1999, Smush Parker’s Newtown High School hoops team made the PSAL quarterfinals in his lone season playing at the school, before losing to Cardozo, the eventual city champions.

Parker would go on to play with six NBA teams, most notably two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he played with Kobe Bryant. He also played professionally in Russia, Greece, Iran, Croatia and Tunisia, among other places.

Last Friday, Parker went back to school as the Pioneers honored him, hanging his No. 21 in the gym during a halftime ceremony.

“It still hasn’t set in yet,” William “Smush” Parker III told the Chronicle. “I still don’t believe that my name is up in the rafters and it’s going to be here for the ages.”

Parker was an amateur legend in Lower Manhattan growing up. He was mentioned in a 1997 Sports Illustrated story with a street scout telling writer Rick Telander that “he’s gonna be the next Jordan. His name is Smoosh [sic]. There’s gonna be a sneaker named after him. Six-one, with arms that make him six-four. Best skills I’ve ever seen. Ever.”

He spent his freshman season at Washington Irving High School before transferring to Newtown. Academics cost him the second half of his sophomore season and all of his junior year but he qualified to play in his senior season.

The Newtown gym, Parker’s favorite memory of his playing days, was known as “the dungeon.”

“We had an advantage because we’d practice here in the gym,” he said. “And teams would come in with the low ceiling, the lighting is bad and it’s a pretty small court, so we used it as an advantage. Teams didn’t know what to do against our 1-3-1 press.”

It didn’t hurt having Parker, either. And the team had future NBA player Charlie Villanueva playing in his freshman season.

Parker did it at both ends of the court. In a blowout win over Bayside, he had 22 points, six rebounds and seven steals.

In the playoffs, 10th-seeded Newtown was an underdog against seven-seed Erasmus but Parker had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a 56-43 upset win. Fellow senior Sean Ramirez had 20 points and 20 rebounds to send the Pioneers to the quarterfinals. It was Newtown’s 20th win of the season.

But Cardozo ended the Pioneers’ season in a 63-49 game at Lehman College. Newtown valiantly cut a 14-point deficit in half with Parker hitting a jumper with 2:19 remaining before Cardozo pulled away for good.

Parker fouled out with 1:13 left. In his final high school game, he scored a game-high 22 points, adding eight rebounds, five steals and three assists. Even in defeat, the Post noted that Parker was the game’s most impressive player.

He played a season at Southern Idaho Junior College before going to Fordham. Parker averaged 16.5 points per game and was a second-team All-Atlantic 10 selection. Then, figuring he would be drafted by one of the 29 teams in the NBA, he chose to go pro after his sophomore season.

He wasn’t selected in the first round. Or in the second.

But the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him shortly after the draft. His pro basketball odyssey was underway.

He played one season with the Cavs. Then he went to Greece. Then the Idaho Stampede of the NBA’s D-League, before a cameo with the Detroit Pistons.

The traveling continued, eventually bringing him to the Los Angeles Lakers with legendary coach Phil Jackson putting him in the backcourt with Kobe Bryant.

In four of his first five games with the Lakers, he scored at least 20 points. Parker played in all 82 games in both seasons with the Lakers, even if things weren’t always harmonious with Bryant.

There were short stints with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers. And then a nomadic basketball existence that took him all over the world and ended last year in upstate New York with the Albany Patroons of The Basketball League.

His playing days are over but Parker plans on being on the court during NBA games again. His next goal is to become a referee. The last NBA player-turned-referee was Haywoode Workman, who most notably played for the Indiana Pacers in the ’90s.

Parker said he has been picking the brain of referee Zach Zarba for several years.

Parker has officiated before. When he was 13 playing in a recreational league in Manhattan, he picked up some money working youth games.

“The seeds were planted way, way before I even knew they were seeds,” Parker said.

He added, “Who knew that 30 years later, here I am and I want to become an official?”

Parker’s number is in the rafters, a reminder of what he accomplished at the Elmhurst school and beyond. He said the love and support was “real and genuine.”

In October, he held a fundraiser to help get the Pioneers players new sneakers.

“We got the team some Stephen Curry’s,” Parker said. “Hopefully in the years to come, they’ll get some Smush Parker’s.”

In the years to come, Parker might be officiating some of Curry’s games.

Welcome to the discussion.