Her brothers are for the birds, but Taiyier Parks chooses Spartans
On June 21, Taiyier Parks sat in a back room of an upscale New York City sports bar called The Ainsworth and waited several hours for three syllables.
It was the 2018 NBA draft, and commissioner Adam Silver, on the final pick of the first round, finally said: "The Atlanta Hawks select Omari ..."
Parks didn't wait for the full name to be read. She knew a dream had just come true for her brother Omari Spellman, a 6-foot-9 forward who had helped Villanova win a national title earlier in the year.
"When I heard 'Omari' I jumped so high -- it was magical," Parks said of the emotion she felt for her brother, who chose to have a private party rather than attend the draft.
"I had faith he would go in the first round, but I was nervous, too. When his name got called, I jumped on his back."
At that moment, Parks didn't pause to consider that she had ruptured the ACL in her left knee two months prior, postponing surgery so she could be present for her brother's big day.
But in her emotional state on draft night, she was feeling no pain.
"I totally forgot about my knee," Parks said. "I was so excited."
A 6-2 senior forward for North Royalton (Ohio), Parks had her own exciting day last Thursday when she signed a national letter of intent to play with Michigan State.
"She's a versatile kid," said Andre Gault, her long-time AAU coach with the Score More Athletic Club, also known as SMAC. "She has the ability to defend every position, score and be physical in the paint and also knock down 3-pointers."
A star from the start
Parks has a birthmark in the shape of a star on her thigh, and her mother is convinced that it's no coincidence.
The 17-year-old likes to draw, she takes photography courses, and she's learning how to ballroom dance.
Basketball, though, comes naturally. After all, she comes from a highly athletic family.
Parks is the youngest child and only daughter of Teresita Jones-Thomas, who played basketball at Youngstown State as a 6-1 forward. Parks' father, Omari Parks, played football at Youngstown State as a tailback.
Besides Spellman, Parks' other brother is Arashma Parks, a 6-9, 235-pound freshman forward at Temple University.
"She is close to both her brothers," Jones-Thomas said. "She goes to Omari for basketball guidance. She goes to Arashma for relationship and fashion advice."
Jones-Thomas said basketball was the final sport her daughter tried. Before that, not wanting to force her to play basketball, Jones-Thomas put Parks into cheerleading, soccer and other activities.
Finally, by fourth grade, Parks tried basketball, joining SMAC.
"She was a tall, uncoordinated and goofy kid," Gault said. "But by the sixth grade, she had started to figure out how to use her size and athleticism."
By seventh grade, Gault said, she had received an offer from Ohio State, and Michigan State joined the picture about a year later.
It's quite likely Parks would have had a higher national ranking had she not suffered two ACL injuries.
Her first injury, to her right knee, happened toward the end of her freshman year. It was a non-contact injury; Parks' knee simply buckled as she tried a Eurostep, a move which features a quick change in direction.
Gault rushed over to tend to his player. When he saw it was serious, he motioned to Parks' mother, who was sitting in the stands.
Jones-Thomas arrived on the court to find her daughter sobbing.
"I had never felt that pain before, and I was overly dramatic," Parks said. "My mom tried to calm me down. But I said, 'Mom, I tore my ACL!' "
Parks' diagnosis proved correct, and it happened again this past April, this time to her left knee and this time due to contact with an opponent who pushed her from behind.
Parks will not play this season and will instead spend her time studying (she wants to become a sports psychologist), rehabilitating her knee and watching basketball.
"My plan," said Parks, who committed to the Spartans in June, "is to support my high school, Michigan State and my brothers."
"I know the Michigan State coaches are excited about having her as part of this class," Gault said. "She's different from what they've had in the past. Her ability to shoot the ball and run the floor is going to help them."