International rookie: The emergence of Robyn Parks
“She can just light up a whole gym, not even just a room, with her smile.”
VCU women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings saw something in Chicago Sky forward Robyn Parks that Parks didn’t even see in herself: getting to the WNBA.
“She texted me [the night she made the team], I congratulated her and all that. She said, ‘Coach, it’s crazy. How you saw this in me when I didn’t see it in myself.’ For her nine years later to say that and acknowledge that, it tells you a lot about who she is and how she is with people,” Stollings said.
Prior to joining the WNBA, Parks spent almost 10 years playing ball internationally and recently played with Magnolia La Molisana Campobasso in Italy where she led the country in scoring. That’s when former Sky general manager and head coach James Wade saw her potential where she played against top-tier WNBA talent like Rhyne Howard and Marina Mabrey.
“She has nice size, nice length and she has a good handle when she’s not trying to do too much. All those factors and the athleticism factor too added to it,” Wade said. “She’s getting used to the speed. The thing that she’s capable of is being able to create a shot, using her length to disrupt plays. She’s gotten a lot of experience even if it isn’t in the WNBA. The fact that she can read defenses, she does that pretty well. She can knock down shots too.”
Mabrey – Parks’ now teammate in Chicago – saw the same potential as Wade.
“She was killing us every single night. I knew she had it. I knew it was there,” Mabrey said about playing against Parks in Italy. “I just knew it was going to take her some time to get adjusted and once she got adjusted, she’s a really good player. She can score the ball. She can defend. She can pass and move the ball. I can go on and on about Robyn.”
Parks joined the Sky on a training camp contract back in February. She earned her first minutes against Phoenix on May 21 and put up her first career points against the Atlanta Dream on May 30. It was that Phoenix game where Parks felt her “I’m in the W” moment.
“I was on the free throw line, and [Brittney Griner] was right beside me, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is Brittney Griner for real.’ It’s kind of crazy,” Parks said with a big smile. “I try not to be starstruck, because I’m out here with you all. Playing against A’ja Wilson, Candace Parker, players like that, like I used to watch them on TV. Now I’m out here playing against them. It’s a surreal feeling.”
As the first half of the season played out, Parks sat on the bench, absorbing and learning how to adjust to the WNBA after playing 9 years overseas. While the sport itself remains the same, it’s the WNBA’s speed, physicality and communication that takes some time to learn.
“I’m learning so it’s so crazy. I was just telling one of my friends…I feel like I’m just absorbing everything, just trying to learn as much as possible,” Parks said. “I’m trying to be a better communicator, because overseas…we talk but it’s not really like this. I feel like I’m back in college now.”
While the Sky’s campus looks a bit different than the bricks laid throughout VCU, Parks still has one connection in Stollings when she starts to feel the pressure of playing in ‘the W.’
“I tell her on text all the time, ‘Keep being you. That’s what got you here. That’s how you’re able to do what you’re doing is keep being you,” Stollings said. “Look, you spent nine years in foreign countries; that took a lot of patience and took a tremendous amount of perseverance being away from home, family, the sacrifice.
“So this view..this is not easy, but you’ve already been there. You’ve seen the hardest parts of things. So now you’re here. You’re home, you get to play in front of everybody on national TV. So just just be you. You’re ready for this moment’.”
Parks soaked up everything she could both on and off the court, and fans started to see glimpses of what her game is in June against the New York Liberty. The Sky were down to just seven active players due to injuries when Parks’ number was called off the bench. She put up a balanced stat line over 20 minutes with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out where you play all the minutes, but I got so much, so much respect for her coming in there whenever her name is called, hitting big shots and defending,” Kahleah Copper said after the game. “So she did exactly what we needed her to do. It’s very hard to be ready all the time, but she was ready.”
As the Sky entered a 6-game skid and rocky finish to the first half of the season, Parks remained on the bench, getting a couple minutes here and there as the roster and coaching staff went through several changes. Nerves would get the best of her early, and her family noticed that Parks was still struggling with her confidence on the court.
“One day, my brother was at [Wintrust for the Atlanta game], and I had a not-so-good game and he was like, “Look. I don’t care about nothing else. Just be you.” After that, it was about locking into who I really am and I feel like with every game, it’s starting to show slowly but surely,” Parks said.
Coming out of the second half, the patience paid off as the 31-year old rookie got her moment where her minutes jumped up to almost 18 a game. Over the 8 games since the All-Star break, Parks found her rhythm with 6.8 ppg while shooting 58.3% from the arc as well as 2.1 rpg.
She set a career high with 14 points in the 104-85 win over the Phoenix Mercury on July 30 and is currently ranked in the Top 5 of WNBA rookies with her 3-point shooting of 43.4% on the season.
“Getting buckets gets my teammates hype so I’m trying to get buckets,” Parks said laughing
“She’s been waiting on the sideline, waiting for her time. Finally, we found some playing time for her and that’s the professionalism she has,” Emre Vatansever said. “If you have a player like this, it’s actually a luxury that she was waiting patiently on the sideline. It’s great to have as a coach.
“It’s really hard for a player who plays multiple positions – being the stretch forward/post and then also playing as a wing – it’s actually very hard, because you need to know all the plays, all the spacing and all the actions. I think she’s doing a good job learning, watching videos and constantly educating herself about our game.”
As the Sky enter into the last handful of games for a playoff push, Parks wants to continue to bring her contagious energy off the bench with her eyes on finishing her first WNBA season in the postseason.
“[It would be] an unexplainable feeling,” Parks said. “Being here is honestly something that I never even imagined so that would just continue to be a part of the story. That would be beyond my wildest dreams.”