Park Overcomes Obstacles to Play D-1 Hoops
BALTIMORE — David Park enjoyed a superb prep basketball career.
After thousands of miles, several stops and many hurdles, the Wheeling native is finally realizing his dream — that of playing Division I basketball.
Park helped lead Wheeling Central to a West Virginia Class A state basketball championship in 2014 to go with a pair of OVAC crowns. The two-time all-stater completed his Maroon Knight career with 1,187 points and 621 rebounds.
After scripting such an illustrious career for Mel Stephens, the McDonald’s All-America candidate embarked on an elongated route that has finally led him to college basketball’s top level.
Park is now finding playing time as a redshirt freshman at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. UMBC is located on the outskirts of Baltimore. The school features 19 NCAA D-I teams as members of the American East Conference.
The Retrievers are enjoying a successful campaign, boasting a 13-7 mark. As fate would have it, however, Park’s season has been stymied because of injuries.
“I was healthy all year until I started feeling some pain in my hip. I pushed through it a couple weeks and the pain would not go away. I found out that I had torn my labrum. I sat down with my trainer and coach and I decided that I wanted to play through it. About a month later, two weeks before our first game, I felt a sharp pain in my foot while we were practicing,” Park said. “I continued to practice trying to fight through the pain, but I had to pull myself out. I got an X-ray and MRI on my foot and found out I could have potentially torn my lisfranc (the ACL of the foot). I went to multiple doctors to see what they thought and one said I just sprained it and had multiple bone bruises around it.
“The doctor said that I would be out 7-10 weeks. This did not sit very well with me. After being out for two years already, I just wanted to play and be on the court with my teammates. I finally got back and played in my first collegiate game in the final minutes of the UMass-Lowell game on Jan. 13. I then scored my first collegiate bucket.”
Now firmly entrenched at a D-I program, getting there was a story in itself.
“I chose to attend IMG Academy in Florida after I graduated Wheeling Central because I thought it was the best decision I could make at that time. I wanted to have an extra year after high school to develop my skills and to get recruited more. It was one of the best decisions I have made. It helped me to grow both on and off the court,” Park said. “It was my first year away from home. It made me grow up a lot faster being 16 hours away from home. At IMG, we had skill work in the morning for an hour and lifting after that. We then had a break for a couple of hours, followed by agility training and a full practice. You can say that I ate, breathed, and slept basketball. We had 30 players in our postgrad class, and there were two teams divided up equally. We also had one national team that took the best 12 players in the program on the major tournament trips.
“It was a weekly grind and very competitive to make it on that team, and I was on that team every single game we played. We had a lot of talent on that team, which consisted of players going to high-majors such as: Ohio State, two players to Arizona State, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Providence. The remaining players went to mid-major schools such as James Madison, Kent State, Northern Illinois, George Mason and so on. One of my teammates was selected in the NBA Draft later that year. That year was a great experience and I would not trade it for anything.”
Park’s decision to head to IMG yielded dividends. It was there that he was recruited to play at the Air Force Academy. He committed there in March of 2015.
“At the beginning of it all, I was in basic training for about three weeks. This consisted of tireless activities going from sprints, pushups, situps, waking up at 4 a.m. and going to sleep around 11 p.m. We had to fold our t-shirts a certain way and we had to keep our dresser and closets a certain way. This helped me strengthen my mental toughness even more,” Park said. “It was a great experience looking back. As far as basketball goes, it was a good year to work solely on my game. I could not participate in any games because I had already used my postgrad year at IMG. It was a very fun year being with the guys, and I made some friends there that I will have for the rest of my life.”
With his life and hoop career falling in place, Park received yet another physical setback. This one of major proportions.
“About five days after I received my academy appointment, I had a grand mal seizure. I did not know I had epilepsy, but after hearing more information about seizures, I then noticed that I was having a certain type of seizure called a focal seizure since I was a junior in high school,” the three-time All-Valley and All-OVAC honoree noted. “These were not grand mal seizures, but the type of seizure that had me feeling not like myself. I then was medically disqualified from the Air Force Academy and had to pursue other options to continue my basketball career. This led me to commit to UMBC.
“While talking to the the UMBC coaching staff, I felt very comfortable with them. I went on my visit to the school and loved it. This past year was the staff’s first year at UMBC so I was a part of their first recruiting class. The coaching staff knew of my seizure disorder and wanted me to redshirt to make sure everything was OK.”
The redshirt season had its pros and cons. But the 6-foot-5 guard made the most of it.
“This gave me another extra year to work on my game, but it would be two years off the court from playing in an actual game. The 2016-17 year gave me a year to get become more comfortable in their system and to play with my new teammates,” Park said. “It also gave me a year to get stronger in the weight room. I felt significantly stronger on the court. I went home for the summer and worked out as much as I could.
“Whether it was working out at midnight or early in the morning, I wanted to get better. I worked out with Jeremy Hays who now has his own business of basketball development called Fadeaway Fitness,” he said. “He would work out with me whenever I was able to and I am grateful that he was there to help me. Also, I played as much pickup basketball as I could so I could get better in game situations.”
Now with two games under his UMBC belt, Park faces another major decision as his team battles for a conference title. That quest resumes today when the Retrievers visit the University of Albany.
“I believe we are a legit contender to win our conference. Vermont is the reigning America East champion. I believe that we can win our conference to make it to the NCAA Tournament,” Park said. “But I am contemplating season-ending hip surgery to be better prepared for next season.”
Park is considering a major in business technology administration.
His father, Keith, lettered in baseball at Pitt-Johnstown.
∫ I believe WVU’s Jevon Carter is the best player in college basketball. The tenacious guard excels at both ends of the court and has a motor that never idles. Bob Huggins, meanwhile, is on the short list of best collegiate coaches.
∫ It is still hard to fathom that the Steelers could score 42 points and lose to offensively-challenged Jacksonsville. With that said, look for the Patriots to cage the Jaguars today. I also pick the Vikings — still living thanks to a miracle — to oust the Eagles.
∫ Toronto has opted to leave the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference following the 2018-2019 school year. The league is comprised of Leetonia, Lisbon, Columbiana, East Palestine, United, Southern and Wellsville. Toronto athletics director Chelsey Fletcher cited financial reasons for the decision to exit the EOAC.
∫ Missy Tiber has her North Alabama women’s hoop team off to a brilliant 16-1 start. Tiber is a former Bellaire High and West Liberty University hoop standout.
∫ Mike Tomlin severing ties with Todd Haley came as no surprise. A QB sneak or two against Jacksonville may have saved the offensive coordinator’s job.
∫ Former Wheeling Park grid stud Theo Blackston has earned some nice college football recognition. Now a junior fullback for the Mercyhurst Lakers, Blackston was named to the Don Hansen Gazette All-Super One Region first team. He was a defensive lineman his first two years at the Pennsylvania-based Division II institution.
Bubba Kapral can be reached at email@example.com