Big man Austin Parks focusing on growing game as Ohio State career looms

The location hasn’t yet changed for Austin Parks, but the routine has.

As he has for the last four years, Parks has gotten up early and made his way to St. Marys Memorial for class. Going through the halls, he still sees the faces of his lifelong friends, some of whom have been his teammates during his playing career for the Roughriders. But a little before noon, everything shifts and the new reality presents itself anew.

With just a few weeks left until graduation, Parks’ day of classes ends and it’s time to put in work to prepare for his next stop: a looming freshman year at Ohio State. It’s a transition Parks is excited for, but in the interim it’s a bit unusual.

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“It’s really weird,” he said earlier this week. “I mean, my whole life I’ve just been playing with the same dudes, growing up with them, practicing together, playing around. Now that a couple of weeks went by (since the season’s end), weightlifting for next year’s group has already started. They’re already in the weight room and the gym and it’s just weird not being with them.”

Those feelings are shared by outgoing seniors everywhere approaching the end of their high school days, but that doesn’t make them any less real. While it’s a bit of an awkward feeling, Parks said he’s using the time to work on his individual game and best prepare himself for joining the Buckeyes. That means lifting with a trainer every weekday afternoon for an hour and a half until school is out before returning to the gym for workouts.

Both with the trainer and at the school, the focus is on improving his ball skills. There’s a lot of shooting, dribbling and overall work at helping grow his overall game. He’s up to 6-11, 260 pounds, and while Parks will help man the paint with his size and physicality but there’s room for his abilities to grow.

“Ohio State coaches and my coaches, they all make it pretty clear that I need to expand my game and get more versatile, saying that shots are going to be there, nobody’s going to be able to block that shot,” he said. “I’ve just got to gain the confidence to start taking more of them. Usually it’s all back-to-the-basket, getting to the rim, getting higher than everybody else, but I definitely did a few turnaround, some mid-range, a few 3s.

“Really that mid-range, backing people down and taking a step out and fading away a little bit, that shot’s really coming along.”

Parks committed to Ohio State during the winter of his junior season, picking the Buckeyes from a list of finalists that also included Michigan State and Indiana. During the spring, he suffered a knee injury while playing AAU ball that would cost him the majority of the summer as well as the first game of his senior season. He was recognized at that game for having scored his 1,000 th career point in the final game of his junior year, then made his senior debut in a Dec. 9 home game and worked his way back into a rhythm.

It took a little while.

“I was obviously nervous at the start, not knowing if it was gonna happen again or if I was gonna be the same,” he said. “I had a lot of doubts, but working back into it and gaining confidence and not really thinking about it really helped me out. After a few games, I knew I was good to go and I had no issues or worries about it and just kept getting better from there.”

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Parks earned first-team Division II all-state honors after averaging 21.8 points per game in a season that ended with the big man scoring 30 points but the Roughriders exiting the playoffs in a buzzer-beating, 56-55 district semifinal loss to Van Wert.

“I think the thing that’s going to stick with me the most is how we went out early on a tough shot that kid put up,” he said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to. Obviously we had bigger plans and things didn’t work out our way but definitely a season to remember and I’m very thankful for how it went down.”

His future school also suffered through a difficult season. The Buckeyes went 16-19, lost 14 of 15 at one point and missed out on postseason play for the first time since 2017. Watching Ohio State struggle was difficult, Parks said, but he was excited to see the coaches continue to lean into playing freshmen Roddy Gayle Jr., Felix Okpara, Brice Sensabaugh and Bruce Thornton.

“Obviously I don’t want to sit there and watch my future school lose but that really kind of got me excited because I saw all the freshmen that were able to step up,” he said. “Seeing that made me realize that I have a great chance to play next year. It’s really making me focus on what I’m going to do when that situation comes around.”

Austin Parks, a 2023 Ohio State commitment from St. Marys (Ohio) Memorial, watched his team participate at Ohio State's 2022 team camp while recovering from a knee injury.
Austin Parks, a 2023 Ohio State commitment from St. Marys (Ohio) Memorial, watched his team participate at Ohio State's 2022 team camp while recovering from a knee injury.

Parks said he remained in contact with coach Chris Holtmann and associate head coach Jake Diebler, his primary recruiter, throughout the season and that their approach to trying to snap the losing streak was something he saw pay dividends.

“They know what they are doing so they were going to continue doing what has worked for them in the past,” Parks said. “They kept getting in the gym, kept working and they knew that they could win those games as easily as they lost them. I felt like they were fine. I have faith in them and they knew what they were doing.”

Soon, he’ll get to experience that firsthand. A three-star prospect in the 247Sports.com composite database, Parks is rated as the No. 5 prospect from Ohio, the No. 25 center in the nation and the overall No. 173 prospect. He’ll team with fourth-year veteran and returning starter Zed Key as he recovers from season-ending shoulder surgery and second-year four-star prospect Felix Okpara to give the Buckeyes multiple post options.

All three will have roles, but Parks hesitated to call the situation as a battle among the three bigs.

“I’m going to say we’re going to help each other work together and we can fit in together and play each other’s roles,” he said. “I know Zed ain’t going to be able to play 40 minutes a game, so if Felix ain’t gonna be able to go I’ll be there to step up and if I can’t go, Felix and Zed are going to be able to do their thing. It’s really all about supporting each other and making each other better.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Big man Austin Parks growing game while preparing for Ohio State