Shawn Parrish Interview: His Teams Made Him Great

Thirty years ago, Shawn Parrish and teammate Greg Wright led the little-known Owen Valley Patriots to an 18-2 regular season record, a rarely won West Central Conference championship, and ended a sectional drought which had lasted 14 years. After graduating in 1986, Parrish would continue his career first for the Vincennes University Trail Blazers. He would then finish his final two years at Ball State, the latter year as a member of the school’s 26-win team which almost upset eventual NCAA champion UNLV in the sweet-16 round of the championship tournament. After a brief stint as an assistant coach at Northwestern, Parrish hung up his whistle and returned to private life. Three decades later, Parrish sat down with National Road’s Donovan Wheeler and  discussed that 1985 season, his time in college, and where the game has come since then.

DW:  As I was brainstorming story ideas for this magazine, I realized that this year is the 30th Anniversary of Owen Valley-Greencastle.

SP:  Wow… When you said that to me in your email, I didn’t even know that.  You think about when we were kids, and 30 years ago then was the 1950’s…? Now, to think that our time is to these kids today what the ‘50’s were to us… It’s just hard to believe that much time has gone by.

DW:  Your sophomore year, 1984, you guys go 11-10.

SP:  That’s not very good. Laughing.

DW:  Given that, did you guys know, going into ’84-’85 that you would be as good as you ended up?

SP:  I don’t know…I think we always thought we could have been pretty good, and…was that the first year we played in the Greencastle sectional?

DW:  Yes, it was.

SP:  That’s right. Before that we always played at Martinsville.

SP:  Well, I think that [the sectional switch] had us believing, “Hey, maybe we can win a sectional.”   I think that, and the fact we were all a year older were factors, and we also got a boost when we played L&M that year in the season. They were ranked high, but we all thought we were better, but all of that started first when we left ’84 thinking we needed to get older and more mature. It also helped when Mike Vargo moved in, too. He moved in his senior year.

Photo Credit: Spencer Evening World.
Photo Credit: Spencer Evening World. Posted with Permission.

DW:  So Vargo moved in that year? 84-85?

SP:  He moved in from Indianapolis Chatard.

DW:  What you remember about the regular season match-up with Greencastle?

SP:  The only thing I remember was Mike Cooper. I remember he was just a great player. I was guarding him most of the game, and I remember thinking, “Man, this kid is really, really good.” And I think against me in the sectional he put up something like 30, and…he was just really good. But at the same time, Greg was really good, too. I mean, just think if Greg had had a three-point line.

DW:  That’s sort of amazing given that his career record of 1600+ points hasn’t been touched.

SP:  And if there had been a three-point line…sighs…I don’t even know how to think about many more points he would have scored because most of his damage was from outside. And, you know, it was a different game back then. Now, everything is a three-point shot, and a run-and-gun, and dunk…but back then it was move the ball and take the shot you got. But Greg, it seemed like his were always open deep, anyway.

DW:  I’ve been a friend of then Greencastle coach Doug Miller for a long time, and I’ve always teased him because, after Greg scored 40 against GHS in the regular season, they put the clamps on him in the sectional game, holding him to 38.

SP:  Laughs. That’s something Greg and I still laugh about. In that game, I was lucky enough to get in the right place at the right time to hit a shot [the game winner] at the buzzer. Everyone remembers that shot, but people forget that Greg had 38. You know…I got lucky, but Greg had carried us the whole way.

DW:  So, it’s late in the game, you’re down by the paint, and Vargo brings it down…

SP:  Vargo brings it down and shoots about an 18-footer from the wing, and I just ran to the basket. I happened to be on the right side of the court. I remember when he shot it I thought, “Why are you shooting?” Laughing. I mean, who do you want hit that ball? It’s Greg. Well, I just ran to the basket, and it came off on my side. That’s really all there was to it, and I was lucky enough not to mess it up.

DW:  You and Greg are often listed as “post” players, but you both actually played all the positions, didn’t you?

SP:  Yeah, well point was all I played my sophomore year, then when Vargo moved in, [Coach John Heckman] moved me to the 2-3 spot…Greg was really the 4, and Mark McCollum was the 5. It was just a good group of guys…Brian Burkholder [our sixth man] and Tim Rice [our other starter]…it was just a very good group of guys.

DW:  The Greencastle rivalry was obviously much smaller than the one Owen Valley had with L&M, largely because L&M spent all year ranked in the top three in the state—pre-class system, to boot. What do you remember about that rivalry?

Photo Credit: Spencer Evening World.  Posted with Permission.
Photo Credit: Spencer Evening World. Posted with Permission.

SP:  We knew those guys, [Jeff] Oliphant, [Tony] Patterson, and Chad Grounds from playing with and against each other in the summers. So you had a relationship, a friendship with them. Then the season starts, and they’re ranked in the top five and featured in Sports Illustrated, in a big article about them. And, at that time, Sports Illustrated was the voice of the sporting world. It’s different now because of the Internet, but back then…Holy Cow…a high school thirty minutes from us with friends we knew who were in Sports Illustrated. So, we all thought [just before meeting them in the regular season] if we can beat these guys…

SP:  What I remember about that weekend is that we were supposed to play Edgewood on a Friday night, but the game was postponed…snow, cold, something like that…but, Saturday we hosted L&M, and they didn’t cancel that game. I remember the whole atmosphere. It was just a great basketball atmosphere. The place was packed, it was a perfect game, too. We lost at right at the end when Tony Patterson hit a shot right over my head. And then Greg almost threw one in from half-court.

SP:  That was a good game with some great guys. It was early in the season, and then, in February, Greg had a birthday party, and Jeff Oliphant came up for the party. That just kind of shows what the relationship among us was like. Then, when we played them in the [IHSAA] regional, I was sick. I’d missed two days of school that week, and in the game I got into foul trouble…we had the chance late in the game to take the lead, and we missed a lay-up. But, in the end they just beat us. You know, everyone keeps talking about “class-basketball,” but we got beat twice by a school much smaller than us.

DW:  Owen Valley was statistically a larger school than L&M at the time (OV’s student body: 812; L&M: 165), but many of the kids who attended OV commuted from all over the county. Usually, only the students inside a ten-minute drive participated in sports, which makes OV a much smaller “sports” school at the time.

SP:  That’s right. It seems like it’s easier for kids to travel farther today than it was when we were in school. That, and when people ask me now, “Did you guys play all the time in the summer?” I tell them that some of us did, but others worked on the farm all summer. It was a different time back then.

DW:  Tell me what you think about Greg Wright.

SP:  Just a great, great player. I don’t think people realize how good of a player he was, how good of a competitor he was. I loved playing with him, and I would have loved to have seen him play with that three-point line out there.

SP:  When the NCAA added the three-point line, some people reviewed all of Rick Mount’s film to see what he would have scored, and the final tally was just staggering. I think that if someone did that for Greg…he would have even more than the 1600-something he has now.

DW:  So, speak of “back then”…why do you think high school games are much lower-scoring than they were when you played? What’s your impression of where the game has come?

SP:  It’s definitely changed. I think the three-point line makes it more exciting for the fans because everyone likes to see you take the long shot, but I also think that every player thinks he’s supposed to be taking the three-point shot. But back in…boy, I’m sounding old…but back in the day if you were one of the bigger players you learned how to score on the block, and the game was built around “Hey, let’s throw it inside” a lot more than it is today.

SP:  I mean, I’m watching a game right now on TV, and all five players are running around the three-point line. The modern game is all about going one-on-one, whereas, back when we were playing, it was all about motion offense…moving and taking whatever shot you can get that’s free. But now everyone’s more athletic, and everyone’s shooting the three-point shot.

SP:  I love the game, and I still like watching it. But everyone’s taking so many of these shots. I find myself thinking, “Man, is anyone going to set a screen and just roll to the basket or throw it into the low-post?”

DW:  And when they do, they miss the free throws today.

SP:  Oh, it’s awful!

SP:  Part of the problem is that there’s all of this individual…everyone pays a lot of money to go to these individual workouts where it’s all about what you can do with the ball. That’s a big part of the game: being able to break people down one-on-one, but very little time is spent just shooting. And no one takes the time to shoot free throws. They’d rather be dunking or doing trick shots, but it’s that boring free throw which makes a big difference, actually a huge difference.

DW:  Do you remember how excited everyone at Owen Valley would get after you dunked the ball?

SP:  Oh, when I played no one could dunk…no one. And now, everyone with some athleticism can do that. I mean, if you’re tall and athletic, but you’re not dunking the ball, everyone’s wondering what’s wrong with you. Now, after practice, instead of shooting free throws, everyone’s practicing their dunks. It’s part of the reason why I think girls are better shooters than boys are today.

DW:  Do think that the athleticism you mentioned has made it hard to officiate the game.

SP:  I think the size and the speed has made it harder to determine what is impeding someone from be being able to score. Everyone’s so strong, and they pound on each other. Are we going to call every single touch? I think officiating’s gotten harder. With adding the third referee, they can keep up, and they can see the floor better, but I think even with that everything happens so fast. If you watch, there’s a foul on every play, and I think it’s hard to decide, “What are we going to call?”

SP:  I wouldn’t want that job.

DW:  You went on to have two great years at Vincennes University (Junior College) and then played on two of the greatest teams in Ball State history. The 1990 BSU team won 26 games, a conference title, and faced top-ranked UNLV in the sweet-16 round of the NCAA tournament, losing by one basket. How does Owen Valley, 1985 compare with Ball State, 1990?

SP:  They’re both just as big because winning the [IHSAA] sectional is something you grow up…as a kid and a basketball player, you grow up thinking “I want to win a sectional…win a sectional…” I remember growing up and going to high school games but never seeing us win one. The last time OV won before that was ’71, so I’d never seen us win a sectional. So, when you’re growing up that’s all you knew. That’s all you wanted to do.

SP:  And you really didn’t dream past that. You didn’t think, “We’re going to win state.” Our thought was always, “We’re going to win the sectional.”   But then when you get there, you start thinking, “Hey, if we can get past L&M, then you never know what’s going to happen.” I mean, you have your whole life to dream about winning a sectional, then you do, and suddenly you have a week to dream about winning a regional.  And at Ball State we’re thinking, “we want to play in the NCAA tournament.” You don’t think about playing in the Sweet-16, you just think about playing in the tournament. Then suddenly you’re in the Sweet-16, and it’s pretty cool.  At the time we thought it was amazing, but as I get older, it gets a little more special every year.

SP:  A couple weeks ago I was at Ball State, and the new coach asked me to speak to the players. And I told them that no one ever asked me how many points I scored, or how many rebounds I had. They know I played on that team, and that makes me a great player. So, I was trying to talk to them about the importance of “team.” And, when you look back at when we won the sectional…that was just a great team. Sure, everyone knows Greg was the leading scorer, but outside of that, the only thing anyone remembers was that it was a great team. Teams define who you are. So, I’ve become a better player every year because I was on a winning team.  So, they’re two of the greatest accomplishments in my life. They only happened at different stages.

DW:  After your career ended, you were an assistant coach at Northwestern. Why did you give it up and walk away from the college game?

SP:  The head coach [Ricky Birdsong] was fired, and all of the assistants are part of his staff. So, when the head coach is fired, everyone else is, too. I started looking around, and had the opportunity to take some jobs at a few places, but my wife and I were getting ready to start a family…she had a great job, and we thought, let’s see what else is out there. I got into something else entirely and found out that there is a life out there. I had my weekends to myself, and it turned out to be great. If was still in the college game, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to coach my daughters. I loved coaching when I did it, but when I got out, I left  at the right time for me.


Donovan Wheeler
Author: Donovan Wheeler

Wheeler proudly teaches English to a horde of bright and lovably obnoxious high school seniors in a small college town. He has written in the past for Indiana on Tap and STATE Magazine, and is an occasional contributor to NUVO, Indy's alternate news website. Since picking up the guitar three years, he can now play a dozens songs while singing them quite badly.

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