He was known as a nice guy during his two years with the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team, but Travis Parker also had a strong, competitive spirit that helped the Grizzlies maintain their place as one of the elite junior college teams in the nation.
“The thing I remember most about Travis is that he was so nice,” recalled his Adopt-A-Grizzly “Mom” Chris Turner of West Plains. “One time, when he knocked down an opponent during the game, he went back and helped the player up. He was so nice, all the time.”
"But he also knew how to play the game", added Dean Smith, color commentator for the Grizzly game radio broadcasts at the time. “Travis was a good rebounder. He also had a quick release with the outlet pass, usually to Terrell Everett. He had a wide body and he knew how to use it to help his teammates,” Smith said.
A native of Belvoir, N.C., Parker, a 6-foot, 5-inch forward, came to the Grizzlies in fall 2002 after a stellar career at North Pitt High School in Bethel, N.C., where he earned MVP honors in the Eastern Plain Conference and the Eastern North Carolina Holiday Classic as well as first team Eastern Plain all-conference honors. His team also was runner-up in the North Carolina state championships.
Parker made an immediate impact on the Grizzlies, scoring 14 points in his first game with the team against Motlow State Community College in the 2002 Ozarks Medical Center Tip-off Classic. He also garnered 17 points and 13 points against Barton County Community College and Lee College, respectively, in this same tournament to earn the first of what would be several all-tournament honors during his Grizzly career.
Parker seemed to save his best performances on the court for the Grizzlies’ primary nemeses, however. In the Physical Therapy Specialists Clinic Classic during his freshman year, he came off the bench against perennial national powerhouse Indian Hills Community College and scored 14 points, earning yet another all-tournament team honor and he turned in his best performance of the season against Region 16 arch rival Three Rivers Community College Feb. 22, 2003, canning 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
In his sophomore season in 2003-04, Parker started off the year with a double-double performance, 27 points and 14 rebounds, against Iowa Western Community College and he recorded a double-double performance, 20 points and 13 rebounds, against the then No. 1 team in the nation and defending national champion Southeastern Community College of West Burlington, Iowa, at the Kirkwood Community College Tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
By the end of the year, Parker was averaging 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, good enough to earn first team All-Region 16 honors. His efforts also helped the Grizzlies post 24-8 overall season record and finish in a tie for first place during the Region 16 regular season.
Parker said he and his teammates learned how to fight and play hard through adversity during his two seasons at Missouri State-West Plains. “We had to come together as a team because the coaches were so tough and hard on us, but that’s what they wanted us to do. Their system made us depend on each other and have accountability. Because of that, we were able to have two successful years while I was there – and we were able to beat Three Rivers three times in one season!”
Parker graduated from Missouri State-West Plains with an Associate of Arts in General Studies degree in May 2004 and transferred to Penn State University in Altoona, Penn., where he became the Nittany Lions’ first junior-college transfer in more than a quarter of a century. He played in every game for Penn State over a two-year period, from 2004-2006, making 57 starts and averaging 11.8 points and 3.9 rebounds for his career. He logged a total of 708 points and 329 rebounds while making 76 threes and shooting 45.6 from the floor.
Penn State posted a 22-38 record during his two years and he helped a struggling Nittany Lion program reach its first post-season action in five years in 2005-06, when the Lions went 15-15 and played in the 2006 NIT Tournament. Parker was the second leading scorer on that team, posting 12.2 points per game and was also second in steals (37) and third in rebounding (5.6 grabs) and threes (34). In addition, he posted five 20-point games during the season, including a career-high 22 points in a win over St. Francis.
Parker recorded 42 double-figure scoring games for his career at Penn State. In his first season, he led the team in field goal percentage (45.3), three-point percentage (36.5) and steals (28). He scored 21 points and the winning basket with 8.5 seconds remaining in the Lions’ 66-65 upset of No. 6 Illinois in Champaign in 2006, the biggest road upset in program history.
Parker graduated from Penn State in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management. He spent a year with the European Basketball League’s Landstede basketball team in Zwolle, The Netherlands, and was invited to try out for a National Development Basketball League team in the United States in 2007, but a knee injury halted his playing career.
Parker and his wife of three-and-one-half years, Kristen, currently live in Charlotte, N.C., where he works for Echelon Care residential counseling program as a targeted case manager, but said he would like to become a coach someday. “I am starting to realize that basketball has and will continue to be a major part of my life, so I am looking forward to becoming a coach where I can use my degree and my work experience to assist me,” he explained.
“Playing under the coaches at Missouri State-West Plains prepared me for everything I deal with in life,” he added. “It allowed me to face adversity and conquer all that I wanted to do. Whenever there are times I doubt myself, I think about those three-and-a-half-mile runs or those three-hour practices and push through to the finish. Because of this, I was able to go to one of the most prestigious schools in the United States.”
Although a Penn State alum, Parker said he’s just as proud of his Grizzly heritage. “I speak just as highly of being a Grizzly as I do of going to Penn State or being a professional athlete. Not too many people who attended a two-year program can say they do the same. They’d rather give the four-year program more credit. But Missouri State-West Plains has done so much for me, that it is hard to compare it with other things.”