‘I didn’t know what to expect, other than I knew I had to win’

‘I didn’t know what to expect, other than I knew I had to win’
American Shrita Parker chose to play in lreland because English is spoken here and because Turkey was too far away. It’s not a decision she regrets: ‘I love ithere. I got home for two weeks, but, after the first week back home, I was ready to get back.’ Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Shrita Parker had choices last year. Options.

The 24-year-old was mulling over her plans, having completed her studies in the University of North Carolina (Wilmington), when her agent let her know that a long journey was in her immediate future. How long, exactly, was up to Parker.

“She and I (agent) were talking — this was long before I got here — and she said a team in Turkey was interested in me, and that another team was interested, one in Ireland.

“I said to go with the team in Ireland, because they spoke English. Turkey was a little too far away,” Parker says.

Ambassador UCC Glanmire are glad she passed on Turkey. The point guard has starred for them this season in the league, but this week was spent preparing for their Paudie O’Connor Women’s National Cup semi-final, at the Neptune Stadium, against Pyrobel Killester.

After the initial settling-in period, Parker is comfortable in Cork, though one aspect of the local geography remains a challenge.

“When I go home, or when I call them, they ask me, ‘what did you eat today?’ My mom’s never been on an airplane, so she doesn’t know what it’s like to live in another country.

“So, she and the others have a lot of questions about what it’s like just to live here.

“I tell them that it’s much the same. The accent’s different, and some other things are different, but it’s pretty much the same.

“And I love it here. I got home for two weeks, but, after the first week back home, I was ready to get back.

You know what’s shocked me? The hills. There are so many hills here; every time I think I have a break, it’s, ‘oh, I got another hill to go’.

“But at least my calves are getting a good workout.

“Did I have preconceptions, before I got here? First, I thought I’d go back home with an accent; my friends and family definitely thought that. But, really, I didn’t know what to expect. I had a lot of assumptions, and I didn’t know if the people here would like Americans.”

Parker has acclimatised quickly to Ireland, even if there have been one or two speed bumps:

“The food is good, but the only thing is that you guys don’t have ranch (dressing) here, but that’s okay. You have garlic mayo, so that’s been my thing. There’s a lot of rain. I thought there’d be storms — thunder and lightning, which we get a lot in Virginia Beach — but there’s been none of that. Rainy or chilly outside,” Parker says.

“Penneys is my spot when I go into the city. Otherwise, I’m here (in the Ambassador Hotel) and I work on my music.

“I have music on my Instagram (parker_5), but that’s hip hop. I grew up on the Temptations, thanks to my mom,” she says.

What about the game, though?

Parker was venturing into the unknown by coming to Ireland, so what did she expect on the court?

“I already knew a little: the talk, always, in America, about playing ball overseas, is that it’s physical, more physical than the game back home.

“I knew about that, but you still have to find that out for yourself, because the word ‘physicality’ can mean a lot of different things.

“Coming over, the first game, I didn’t know what to expect, other than I knew I had to win.

"We started off pretty slow and lost a few games, so we just had a talk together, as a team, to try to perform better on the court. Since then, things have turned around, but the team is very close to each other,” Parker says.

Playing professionally was always the dream. “Yes, that was my goal, to play pro. That’s what I wanted as a kid, to play pro in the WNBA or overseas, to get the opportunity to play the sport I loved and to get paid for that.

“So, I’m happy, because I’m playing professional basketball. I’m happy, because I came up from something to what I am today,” Parker says.

Part of being professional is having a professional outlook, and Parker shows what that means when asked about her medium-term goals:

I haven’t been thinking about it, and that’s because my job here isn’t finished. People have asked me if I’m going to come back or if I’ll go somewhere else, but my answer’s always been the same: my job here isn’t done, so I can’t answer that.

"I’m happy here, but I’m a professional. I have to focus on the games as they come,” Parker says.

“Having said that, I’m grateful to be part of this team. I think I got lucky. I love the coaches, everyone who helps with the organisation, all my teammates. It’s been a real pleasure, and that comes from me and Tatum (Neubert).

“We’re comfortable, and that’s really important, to make someone from another country feel comfortable in your country. We’re happy here: we’re a family, players, coaches, and the parents.

"They invite us over for meals, and that means a lot. We’re a long way from home, so if people make that gesture, it really means something,” Parker says.

“For example, we were surprised that Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal here, when it’s so important back home.

"But we had parents and people inviting us over and Mark (Scannell, coach) made sure we had a Thanksgiving dinner. Things like that mean a lot.”

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