For all the acclaim Shaka Smart’s team gets, the best basketball player on VCU’s campus might not be on his roster.
Robyn Parks, a senior on the women’s basketball team, is the Atlantic 10’s leading scorer and rebounder through 25 games of the 2013-14 season.
Parks is one of the most prolific scorers in the country. She entered the week of Feb. 2 as the 11th-ranked scorer nationwide, averaging 22.5 points per game. She also ranks fourth in the A-10 in steals.
Parks attributes her current success this year to her game’s mental aspects.
“I think it’s my mindset because I’m a senior, so it’s now or never,” Parks said. “I don’t have next year to get better or look back on things and say, ‘okay, well I gotta do this differently,’ It’s now. If I don’t get a ring this year, I’m not gonna get one in college.”
Lady Rams head coach Marlene Stollings affirmed Parks’ approach to the season.
“She’s our leader on both ends of the floor,” Stollings said. “When she plays well, we typically have great success. The fact that she’s a senior, all of our newcomers look up to her. She’s playing with a sense of urgency that we’ve not seen since we’ve been here, understanding that there is six games left in the regular season. She desires to potentially hang a banner and that’s something that is still out there and up for grabs.”
Parks is listed as a guard and forward by the VCU Athletics Department. She clarified the broad listing as a hybrid role that allows her to take advantage of the opposing defense in the post or on the perimeter.
“A lot of the times I do end up with smaller people on me so therefore advantage me,” Parks said. “If I’m going against somebody my size or bigger then I can take them outside, take them off the dribble.”
Parks’ style of play coincides with her admiration for professional players like Candace Parker, Seimone Augustus and Kevin Durant. All three players are known for converting defensive mismatches into points.
Stollings said Parks leads the team on both ends of the floor.
“She can score in a variety of ways,” Stollings said. “We’ve got her at the four position and that’s a matchup problem for a lot of people who play man-to-man because she has a lot of guard skills. She can go out and shoot the three, she can go down low and post you up, she can take you off the dribble. So certainly her versatility causes problems for a lot of people.”
Stollings was hired June 2012, and she brought a fast-paced transition offense that took precedence over the traditional half-court offense. The rigorous offseason training required for the Lady Rams to acclimate to Stollings’ intense system has its ups and downs.
“During it, you don’t really appreciate it,” Parks said. “It’s not fun at all. But when you get to see the outcome, the things that happen, you see your hard work paying off. That’s when you start to appreciate it.”
Parks immediately flourished in Stollings’ new offense, as her scoring output jumped from 6.6 PPG in 2011-12 to 18.7 PPG in the 2012-13 season. Continuing to improve under her new head coach, Parks is averaging 22.5 PPG so far in 2013-14.
The Lady Rams as a whole have flourished as well. VCU’s points per game has increased from 59.1 PPG to 79.8 PPG.
Leadership has not been an issue this year despite 11 freshmen and sophomores on the 15-player roster. Parks said Stollings provides strong leadership in the locker room while Parks, senior guard Zakia Williams and senior forward Ryen Henry provide direction for the younger players on the court.
“I think everybody is mature,” Parks said. “(Lead) by example. They follow what we do. They know the ins and outs.”
Stollings elaborated on Parks’ leadership style.
“She pretty much leads with her game,” Stollings said. She’s not really a verbal leader for us very much. She does get hyped for the Richmond game a little extra. She leads by example with her play.”
The Lady Rams entered conference play with a 14-1 record, which included a 13-game winning streak. Beginning with a narrow loss to La Salle University on Jan. 8, the Lady Rams alternated wins and losses for several weeks before hitting a two-game losing streak last week.
Parks said the team needs to regain their balance from their winning streak to stabilize the ups and downs of conference play. She says the A-10 conference is tough and lacks easy opponents.
When it comes to VCU’s biggest threat in conference play, Parks said the field is wide open.
“Every team should be viewed to us as our biggest threat,” Parks said. Every time we go against an opponent, at that time, they are our biggest threat.”
The Lady Rams currently rank near the middle of the A-10 in terms of average attendance. Parks said that attendance will continue to grow as the team’s success increases. She is also looking forward to the A-10 Women’s Basketball Championship, which recently moved to the Richmond Colliseum. Parks says she expects to experience a home-like environment during postseason play this year.
Parks is slated to graduate May 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She has aspirations of playing professional basketball either in the WNBA or overseas.
To University of Richmond women’s basketball head coach Michael Shafer, that comes as no surprise.
“She’s a pro,” Shafer said following Saturday’s 63-62 loss at VCU. “She’s the best player in our league.”