Last spring Western Washington University men's basketball coach Tony Dominguez would get to Carver Gym for work around 7 a.m. and notice he wasn't the first Vikings basketball member in the building.
He was often beaten there by 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman forward Jeffrey Parker.
Parker couldn't help letting out a huge grin while describing how much he loves being in the gym. Fresh off winning a championship his senior year in high school, Parker craved minutes his first year at WWU but was forced to redshirt.
His solution? Live in the gym, especially in the winter and spring months.
"Every morning I'd be in here at 6 a.m. working on my dribbling drills," Parker said. "I'd come back later and put up 1,000 shots on the Gun. It was hard. It was tough, but I feel like it was worth it. I just want to be the best. That's what I strive for."
Parker's work ethic led to Dominguez making a striking statement about his Northern California recruit.
"I don't know if we've ever had a guy that works as hard as him," Dominguez said. "His work ethic last spring was off the charts."
That's saying a lot for a coach who's been at a program for 19 years.
But day-long workouts on the basketball court are nothing new to Parker. He's been doing it since his youth.
"When I was a kid, everyday I just was at the park shooting," he said. "Every single spot, I'd just shoot, shoot, shoot for hours and hours."
Seeing Parker's drive to be great reaffirmed to Dominguez he recruited the right player. And given his offseason work, it comes by no surprise what Parker has done since being inserted into Western's starting lineup.
Fellow redshirt freshman Joey Schreiber beat out Parker for the final starting role to start the year, but after Schreiber went down with a facial injury a month ago, Parker has stepped in and tremendously benefitted the Vikings.
Parker, who's averaging 9.7 points per contest, has started the last seven games and is averaging 12 points per game during that span. Four times he's scored 20-plus, including a season-high 24-point effort during a 99-76 Great Northwest Athletic Conference win against Alaska Anchorage on Saturday, Feb.1.
The Vikings (15-4, 9-2 GNAC) are 6-1 in the seven games Parker has started, and Western is riding a five-game win streak.
"It's been a real big opportunity, especially being a freshman," Parker said. "My first year playing, that's something you really don't see happening on this level."
Parker's confidence has grown as his minutes have, and so has his willingness to shoot from deep.
The Richmond, Calif. product leads the Vikings in 3-point field goals with 34 and his 40 percent conversion rate ranks third on the team behind Richard Woodworth and Schreiber.
Fifteen of Parker's 24 points against Alaska Anchorage came from behind the 3-point arc, and only four times this year has Parker not hit a triple.
Dominguez said there's much more to Parker than just his deep-shooting abilities, though. His variety of scoring, coupled with his work ethic, rebounding and defensive potential makes Dominguez feel he's found a real gem.
"Jeffrey has really blossomed," Dominguez said. "It makes you feel like you got a diamond-in-the-rough-type player. He has so much natural ability and has the chance to be the best player we've had, in theory."
But Parker is still developing. Dominguez said he'd like to see him get stronger and be able to absorb contact and still finish at the rim. Parker, who averaging 3.4 rebounds per game, said he believes he can eventually become an eight-to-10 rebound per night forward.
For as loud as Parker's game can be, he described himself as a "quiet, low-key guy."
Parker, whose dad is a pastor, originally planned on studying neuro-behavioral science but is still mulling his options. He's deeply committed to his faith and said it's helped him stay out of trouble and keep his mind on what's most important to him - school and basketball.
"I take my religion seriously," Parker said. "I'm a student first. I'm just really dedicated to basketball. I love being in the gym. There's no place I'd rather be."
Western is starting to reap the benefits of that.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
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