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Chestatee grad leading the way at North Florida
Chestatee grad and North Florida star Parker Smith plays against Ohio State earlier in the season. - photo by For The Times

When Parker Smith, a former basketball star at Chestatee High, went to Tennessee State, he was hoping for an opportunity to further his athletic career.

While he did have a fairly successful freshman season, averaging nine points per game, things didn’t work out exactly as he’d hoped.

The team was losing and his coach was let go with seven games left in the season. At that point, Smith decided that, despite his early success, that wasn’t where he wanted to be anymore.

Now Smith is a junior guard at the University of North Florida, and he couldn’t be happier.

“Things are a lot different here,” Smith said. “Here the coaching staff is more involved inside and outside of basketball. It’s more of a family. Tennessee State wasn’t like that for me at all. It was more business oriented.”

On the court, Smith is thriving, averaging double-figure points in each game. He had his highest point total this season against now-No. 10 Florida, dropping 17 in a losing effort.

His team has played other nationally-ranked teams like Ohio State and Kansas State. In the game against Kansas State, Smith scored 13 to lead North Florida in an upset attempt that was eventually derailed, 79-68, in overtime.

“It’s great experience,” Smith said, “because playing on the road is one of the best places you can play. You have the odds stacked against you and nothing to lose. To be able to compete is awesome. And we won’t play anyone better than Ohio State all season, so that gives us confidence going into conference play.”

Smith said that, while he felt like his season started a little slow, his shots have begun to start falling and his confidence is beginning to increase.

“I’ve got a lot more confidence now,” he said. “I shoot it the same every time, and to see it rattle out sucks. But when they start to fall, it helps your confidence a lot.”

To Smith, it’s all a process.

When he began to play at this level, he noticed immediately the difference between play in high school and college.

“It was pretty difficult,” he said. “There aren’t any bad players, and people scout you and your team. They know what you do and what you run. You have to be more prepared and more open-minded with what you’re going to run. Everybody’s bigger, faster and stronger.”

Many of the things he learned in high school from coach Russ Triaga have been things he’s applied to his college career as well, he said.

“I still talk to (Barnes) a lot,” he said. “Probably one of the things I took away the most was the way he coached me. Working with him all the time on ways to score without the ball was a huge help. Learning to move without the ball and get open.”

And those are all important traits for someone, like Smith, who has goals of one day coaching a team of his own.

While Smith said continuing to play basketball would be a great opportunity, he’s always envisioned coaching as a logical step in his career. He doesn’t know whether it will be in high school or college, but he’d be happy with either one because he’d be continue to work within the game.

“I’d love a chance to play somewhere, but I’ve also thought about pursuing coaching as well,” he said. “I’m debating between high school and college. You know, if I can play or even if I can’t, I’ve been playing basketball a lot and know a lot of people in the coaching community that I’d be able to call and work with in the future. Being a player helps a lot. Whenever the time comes, I think I should have the opportunity.”

For now, Smith is focused on his season and keeping up with his younger brother, Preston, who plays basketball at North Hall.

“I just need to keep getting better, keep shooting well and finish the season strong,” he said. “If I play well next year, then we’ll see how it goes.”

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