Dennis Parker Jr.’s ascension to N.C. State fueled by academics, athletics, family ties

Fred Jeter | 6/22/2023, 6 p.m.
John Marshall High School’s Dennis Parker Jr. ranks among the most talented and decorated basketball players in Richmond history.
Dennis Parker Sr. and his son, Dennis Parker Jr., are both athletic standouts in the history of John Marshall High School. The elder Parker played football at JM from 1985 to 1988 under Coach Lou Anderson and at Virginia Union University under Coach Joe Taylor. Parker Jr. helped lead JM’s team to the 2023 state title for the third year in which the team has played since COVID-19. The younger Parker was named high school basketball player of the year in Virginia and will play for North Carolina State University. Photo by Regina H. Boone

John Marshall High School’s Dennis Parker Jr. ranks among the most talented and decorated basketball players in Richmond history.

It might have never happened, however, if not for a bold family decision in the summer of 2019.

The son of Dr. Dennis Sr. and Andrea Parker grew up in Chesterfield County and was on track to attend Clover Hill High until everything changed.

The Parkers moved from Western Chesterfield to Richmond’s North Side so their talented son would play for JM Coach Ty White and the perennially powerful Justices.

The transfer from county to city was more about books than basketball, the elder Parker insists.

“Dennis (Jr.) wasn’t always a strong student. We were looking for more academic support and we found it with JM and Coach White,” said Parker Sr.

“Between 4 and 6 each day, we knew exactly where he’d be – study hall,” Parker Sr. added. And he wound up making the National Honor Society.”

The younger Parker was 14 when he enrolled at JM, and found himself at times nervous about leaving behind old classmates for new ones.

“(It was) an interesting trip,” he said of the transfer. At first I was skeptical about how I would fit in, but then everything I thought might go wrong went right.

“I exceeded my own expectations.”

On the court, Parker Jr.’s résumé speaks for itself.

In three seasons (with the exception of a sophomore season due to COVID-19), Parker Jr. was a major part of three state titles and an overall record of 74-6. The JM Justices won the last 37 games he played.

The consensus four-star prospect was two-time All-Metro Player of Year and State Player of the Year this past season.

As a senior, he averaged 20 points, five rebounds and three steals, while hitting 58 percent from the floor and 38 percent behind the arc.

Understandingly, with all that success came a flock of recruiters. The 6-foot-7 wing chose North Carolina State over a long list of suitors and will soon enroll in summer classes in Raleigh to get a head start on the fall semester. Wolfpack Coach Kevin Keatts recruited Parker Jr. for more than his jump shot and theatrical dunks.

“Dennis can score in a variety of ways, and on defense, he can lock down his opponent,” Coach Keatts told Pack Power, an N.C. State in-house publication. “And off the court he is all you could ever want in a student-athlete.”

Parker Jr. plans to major in business administration while also playing hoops at N.C. State.

The Wolfpack is coming off a 23-11 season in which it lost to Creighton in the opening round of the NCAAs.

Much to his credit, JM Coach White places academics at the top of his players “to-do list.” Rarely does an interview go by that Coach White doesn’t mention his team’s sparkling GPA. Parker Jr., by the way, finished with a 5.0 GPA, fourth in his class.

Little of this is by accident.

JM takes part in a federally funded program called TRIO Talent Search. TRIO provides “one-on-one” tutoring and mentoring assistance to students.

“Every single day,” said Coach White of the program. “It’s mandatory — non-negotiable.”

Parker Sr. and Andrea Parker didn’t just take someone’s word for it when making the decision to relocate to Richmond.

“They (parents) came to school and sat in class,” said Coach White. “They saw for themselves” what the school offered.

It helped that the Parkers had family roots in the North Side school.

Dennis Sr. played football at JM from 1985 to 1988 under Lou Anderson, and later lined up at Virginia Union University under Coach Joe Taylor.

While at JM, the elder Parker became close friends with two-time All-Metro basketball star Milton Bell, who later played at Georgetown.

Bell is Dennis Jr.’s godfather, and was instrumental in his early skills development.

“One reason my son went to JM was to be as good as his ‘Uncle Milton,’” said Parker Sr.

Parker Jr. even patterned his appearance after Bell, who was known for his flowing dreadlocks.

As a Justices freshman, Parker Jr. wore his long hair in braided pigtails during games. He since has cut his locs shorter of late but says “I’m going back” to the Bell look.

Parker Jr. always has been a winner. During his Manchester Middle School days, he helped lead the Majestic Lions to consecutive Chesterfield County titles.

As an eighth-grader, he was on the Boo Williams travel team that won a national AAU crown. From Boo Williams, he played on a series of top-of-the-line outfits for Team Loaded.

Parker Jr. finishes with 1,396 career points for JM, despite not playing in his sophomore season.

Other city standouts have scored more. Tyree Evans had 2,251 points for George Wythe, Clyde Austin 2,158 for Maggie Walker, Kendrick Warren 2,134 for Thomas Jefferson and Travis McKie 2,094 for JM, 2007-10. All came in four full seasons.

Still, none of those fine athletes won three state titles, a total that almost surely would have been four if not for a canceled season due to COVID-19 in 2020-21.

Based on his stellar skills on the basketball court and his near straight A performance in JM classrooms, it’s easy to make a case that Parker Jr. is the top city baller ever based on high school play alone.