Some say you have to walk before you can run. In the case of Penn women basketball’s Eleah Parker, she’ll be at full sprint before even finishing her first semester.
As the Quakers graduated one of their all-time great centers in Sydney Stipanovich, the 6-foot-4 freshman from Charlotte, N.C. will be stepping into a big void. Given her raw talent and knack for learning the game, coach Mike McLaughlin sees her as worthy of earning the starting-five nod to kick off the season.
“She’s got the potential to be really good. She has a great work ethic, she’s talented, she can lay the ball up with both hands, and can make a short-range jump shot,” McLaughlin said. “She has all of the qualities to have a great career here at Penn. The key right now is to try to get her acclimated day to day so when she starts she can be a key factor.”
McLaughlin noted that the program has a lot of faith in Parker, who was the 13th-ranked high school center prospect in the country by ESPN. But still, the coaching staff will try to manage early expectations as not to put too much pressure on her.
A multi-year Ivy League champion, senior captain Michelle Nwokedi is looking to build up chemistry with newcomers and get them up to speed for another impending season underscored by high hopes.
“[The seniors] have experience and we’re trying to do our best to lead this team. That means keeping up the work ethic, guiding everyone, especially the freshmen, because everyone is going to see the floor this year,” Nwokedi said.
Recognizing the tremendous opportunity to learn from the reigning Ivy-League player of the year in Nwokedi, Parker has embraced the leadership of her elders.
“For me, that means learning from Michelle right now on the court, and falling behind [the seniors] and letting them be my role models,” Parker said. “Our seniors are great — they are all captains this year. They are role models because they’ve been here before so they know how to guide us and what path to lead us down.”
As one of the biggest beneficiaries of Stipanovich’s dominance down low, Nwokedi will look to Parker to fill that all-important number five role that has been the hallmark of the program in the past.
“Through the past couple practices and scrimmages, we’ve been working on understanding each other, and the types of basketball that we both play,” Parker said. “We need to work off each other, and that’s key because that’s how we’re going to continue to be successful.”
A three-time first-team all-state player in high school, Parker recognizes that she’ll have to adapt her game to be a standout at the collegiate level.
“The competition [in college basketball] will be different. The crowds will be bigger. It’s a bigger stage and that’s exciting,” Parker said. “Personally, I think adapting to the speed is most important, because it’s so different than high school. And just remaining big in the post, especially on defense. Allowing my presence to be big and not shrinking down.”
With only a week or so to go until first tip-off of 2017, the spotlight will soon be on the youngster as Parker will be seeing significant floor time on a team potentially poised for greatness.