HUNTINGTON BEACH — Cherokee Parks, Marina High School's 6-foot-11 center, has the stuff high school legends are made of.
For openers, there's his first name. It inspired newspaper headlines from the day he took to the basketball court as a gangly, 6-9 freshman on Marina's varsity team.
Parks' name grew with his game. The predictions of future greatness came when he was only 15. North Carolina Coach Dean Smith watched him and said Parks couldn't miss as a Division I player. At the time, Parks wasn't old enough to get a driver's license.
By his junior year, Parks was being compared to former UCLA star Bill Walton. Some said he was the best center prospect in Southern California since Walton played at San DiegoHelix. While that is debatable, few could argue he developed into the area's best high school center since Bill Laimbeer played at Palos Verdes.
He averaged 28.5 points, 14.4 rebounds and five blocked shots in a remarkable senior year to become The Times' player of the year for the second consecutive season. Parks joins former Los Amigos center Clayton Olivier and Mater Dei forward Tom Lewis as the only players honored twice as the county's best.
Parks saved his best for the Southern Section Division I-A playoffs. In a two-week run, he averaged 27.8 points in victories over Alta Loma, Capistrano Valley, San Bernardino and Mater Dei.
Parks will best be remembered for a 64-55 victory over Mater Dei in the section semifinals in front of a sellout crowd of 5,000 in UC Irvine's Bren Center. He scored 30 points, had 10 rebounds and blocked five shots against the county's top-ranked team.
Afterward, Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight, who in the past nine years has coached against some of the area's top players, placed Parks in the history book.
"Cherokee Parks is the best offensive player Orange County has ever seen at the center spot," McKnight said. "He was like me playing Nerf ball with my kids against the door."
Parks will play March 27 in the Capital Classic in Washington, D.C., and April 6 in the McDonald's All-American game in Springfield, Mass.
All the while, Parks has managed to keep his athletic success in perspective, maintaining a 3.2 grade-point average and participating in most school functions.
Parks, nicknamed "The Chief" by his teammates, scored 1,964 points in his four-year career. But above all, he excelled in the fundamentals of the game--passing, shooting and rebounding--in a way few could equal.