When Angel Parker decides where she wants to play college basketball after graduating next year, she’ll be the fifth girl from Cardinal O’Hara in the last six years to sign with a Division I program.
That’s a list that includes current senior Kiara Johnson, who’s headed to Eastern Michigan in the fall, University at Buffalo sophomore Summer Hemphill, Canisius College freshman Anndea Zeigler and 2014 Buffalo News Player of the Year Jontay Walton, who played at UMass Lowell before transferring to Edinboro.
It’s an unmatched collection of talent which has made its way through the small private school in Tonawanda, but according to coach Nick O’Neil, Parker doesn’t take a back seat to anyone.
“Her coming up around them, she took a piece of everybody and put it all together for herself,” O’Neil said. “She’s just a hard, hard worker. The hard work translates into her being a great player.
“I think – just my opinion – she is the best player I’ve ever coached.”
Parker, the 2018 Monsignor Martin Player of the Year, followed a natural trajectory for players who make their way through O’Hara’s program.
The lightning-quick, 5-foot-6 junior guard took a step up from freshman contributor to honorable mention All-WNY as a sophomore. This year, she’s The Buffalo News Sister Maria Pares Player of the Year.
“We think she’s doing the same things as last year to be honest, but she’s just scoring more,” O’Neil said. “It was her turn now. With us, you have to work your way up through the system and when you’re a junior and senior you’ll see the accomplishments and acknowledgements.
“Not just scoring, she’s one of the only kids in Western New York that makes everyone around her better. Not that many kids can control a game from start to finish from a non-scoring way and scoring way.”
Parker joins Zeigler and Walton as the third Hawk in the last five years to win The Buffalo News’ top girls basketball honor. She was selected over other strong underclassmen Player of the Year candidates in Williamsville South freshman Amari DeBerry and Franklinville sophomore Danielle Haskell.
Zeigler was the first recipient of the renamed Sister Maria Pares Player of the Year award last year. This is also the sixth straight year at least one O’Hara player has made the All-WNY first team.
“It feels amazing,” Parker said. “It’s just good people, a good mentality that gets you ready for the future. You just have to work hard and you can accomplish anything.”
This marks the second time a different player from the same school has won back-to-back Players of the Year. Mount Mercy’s Jill Ratchuk and Heather Turner won in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
There have been two back-to-back individual winners: Pioneer’s Joelle Connelly in 2007 and 2008 and Niagara Wheatfield’s Angela Tylec in 1997 and 1998.
After the Hawks graduated their top three scorers from a year ago, Parker took over the primary ball-handling duties and nearly doubled her scoring average to lead the area’s No. 1 team in points (15 per game) while also repeating as O’Hara’s assists (7 per game) and steals (6 per game) leader.
She’s the only player in Western New York to reach 300 points, 150 assists and 150 steals this season and missed out on the 100-rebound mark by about a dozen boards. Her career numbers, which start with an eighth-grade season at Cheektowaga, sit at 885 points, 402 steals, 340 assists and 204 rebounds.
The numbers are nice to look at, but they don’t speak to the most impressive parts of Parker’s game, which are her tenaciousness on defense and her ability to make her teammates better. She can adapt her role on the fly and simply take over in a variety of ways, doing it on a consistent basis not often seen at the scholastic level.
Defensively, Parker was always assigned to the other team’s top player, whether they stood 6-foot-2 or 5-foot-2. She regularly held them five to seven points below their scoring average.
On the offensive end, Parker led her team in scoring when that's what was called upon. In games the Hawks needed her to create shots for others, she did that too.
No one knows better than Sacred Heart coach Carrie Owens. The Sharks lost to O’Hara three times this season and she scouted them on six other occasions.
“With only being a junior, she is on a whole other level than any of her opponents,” said Owens, whose team also played and lost to DeBerry’s Williamsville South and Haskell’s Franklinville squads this season. “She causes so much disruption on the court with her relentless, high-pressured, in-your-face defense. She has the capability to change the momentum of the game single-handedly.
“I have never seen her quit or give up, no matter who they play. She always plays at an intense, highly-competitive level. It's just in her. She has the ‘it’ factor, not something that you have to try and motivate to get out of her like you do most players. And she's only going to get even better, which is scary.”
O’Neil pointed to a 60-58 loss against Elmira Christian Academy in late December as a prime example of exactly how much havoc Parker can cause.
O’Hara was down 20 points in the third quarter to the then-No. 6 Class AA team in the state when Parker flipped the switch.
She made two steals and went in for layups, created a pair of 3-pointers for teammates, got fouled a couple of times and made some free throws. Next thing O’Neil knew, the Hawks had the lead with three minutes to go.
“There was a standing-room-only crowd of 2,300 and the people there were in awe,” O’Neil said. “She was the best player on the floor. Totally dominated the game. It just showed everything about this kid.”
Parker finished with 24 points and 10 steals while holding Elmira star Kiara Fisher, who has a handful of Division I offers, to seven points.
In the two weeks leading up to the Monsignor Martin championship in early March, Parker had been sick – in and out of the hospital. All she did was score a game-high 18 points in a 62-46 win over Sacred Heart for O’Hara’s fifth straight league title and 89th win in a row against local competition. Sharks star and All-WNY first teamer Micaela Ryan was limited to 14 points, 5.6 below her season average.
“Really, basketball is just everything to me,” Parker said. “So being sick, I just tried to push through it because I want my team knowing I want us to be great.”
Parker is on the recruiting radar of 10-15 colleges currently, but O’Neil expects that number to double during the summer AAU season. Her scholarship offers include Niagara, Siena, Brown and Hartford. UB, Princeton, Hofstra, Binghamton and Stony Brook have shown interest as well.
But as great as Parker is on the court for the Hawks, O’Neil can’t say enough about her as a person outside of basketball.
“One of most important things is she’s the nicest kid I’ve ever coached,” O’Neil said. “She’s another kid with a high GPA, so she not only just does it on the court but in the classroom as well. I’ve never, ever heard anybody say a bad word about her. It’s just been an honor and a privilege to coach her.”
So much so that even though O’Neil said he was stepping away from coaching following the Monsignor Martin final, he’ll be back on the bench next year because Parker asked him to.
“I’ve been playing under him literally my whole life, my whole basketball career since I was 6,” Parker said. “So I’m just like, ‘You can’t leave me. I need you here.’”
“I couldn’t say no to her,” O’Neil said. “Next year, she’s going to take her game to a whole other level. She thrives on the pressure, wants to lead the team and have the ball in her hands. Losing three seniors, she has to do more. The sky’s the limit for her.”