At 7-feet flat, Northwood senior Kenan Parrish isn’t used to looking up, but this season the Chargers boys basketball team brought on someone the 2023 graduate could look up to — literally and figuratively.
Northwood was aided by former UNC-Chapel Hill standout and NBA player Tyler Zeller, who served as an assistant coach during the Chargers’ run to the 2023 3A boys state title game. Standing just a shade taller than Parrish, Zeller knows what it takes to play the center position at the next level. And Parrish did all he could to soak up the big man’s knowledge of the game.
“It was awesome having him around,” Parrish said. “He’s been to every single level that I want to be at. The biggest thing I took away from him is how physical the game can be. He’s a really strong guy, and he used that to his advantage.”
Playing in all 31 games this season, Parrish was third on the team in points (9.3) and rebounds (5.1) per game. On the offensive end, he made 59.8% of his shots from the field and knocked down five of the 11 3-pointers he attempted. Perhaps even more remarkable is that he shot 78.5% from the free-throw line, a mark of consistency most big men struggle with.
Parrish said his shooting touch is one thing that separates him from some other taller forwards and centers, and it’s an ability that makes him stand out among his peers. Another underrated aspect of his game is his ability to pass the ball. Whenever opposing teams would throw a zone defense at Northwood, it was often Parrish manning the soft spot at the top of the key, catching entry passes before dishing to cutting teammates or open shooters in the corners.
While he only had 25 assists this season, seven of them came during Northwood’s run in the state playoffs.
“(Being a good passer is) very important, and I think that helps me be a little different from other bigs,” he said. “I watch (Nikola) Jokic a lot. I watch a ton of him. He’s really good in the middle of the court and at finding teammates. He’s someone I look up to.”
Jokic, who won back-to-back MVP awards with the Denver Nuggets in 2020-21 and 2021-22, is by no means a traditional big man, known for cleaning the glass and scoring points in the paint. The special parts of Jokic’s game is his ability to find open teammates and operate more like the team’s point guard despite standing 6-foot-11.
Parrish said he wants that same impact on the court. Among his chief focuses this offseason have been improving his conditioning and strength, which he hopes will allow him to stay on the court for longer stretches. While effective in his time on the floor this past season, Parrish rarely played more than 15-20 of the 32 total minutes in a game.
Despite having some areas of his game that need improvement, college coaches are starting to see the potential a player like Parrish can bring to the table with his size and skillset.
Parrish already had offers from Army and Navy, and since this season ended he’s added two more: one from Wingate and the other from Appalachian State. The 7-footer visited the Mountaineers’ campus a few weeks ago and enjoyed what he saw, but he’s still not ready to make an decision on where he’ll play college ball.
“I’m also doing AAU, so things are pretty busy right now,” Parrish said. “I’m just trying to see how things shake out before the late signing, when I’m going to have to make a decision.”
The final day of the Division-I basketball signing period is May 17. From now until then, Parrish could very well pick up more offers as college scouts find more tape on him or see him play with his AAU team, Boo Williams.
Regardless of where he ends up, Parrish could be a diamond in the rough for a program if he continues to work on his strength, conditioning and shot-making. He should certainly benefit from a college-level training staff, who might allow him to reach his full potential sooner than people think.
Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.