Even those who closely follow high school basketball have probably never heard of him. Or his team.
Tayson Parker didn’t play basketball until he was 11. He was a soccer player. His father had to drag him – not quite kicking and screaming, but almost – to his first tryout. “Please no,” Tayson said. “Don’t do this to me.”
By age 12, he could dunk. He was done playing soccer. Basketball was Tayson’s sport. Now, at 15, he has a Division I college basketball offer. He’s probably the best high school basketball player you’ve never heard of. But Tayson has a plan.
“My short-term goal is to get my skills as good as they possibly can be,” he said. “And then go to Purdue and graduate with a degree in engineering of some sort. And if it works out, go to the NBA.”
It might seem like reaching for the stars. But Tayson Parker has already scored more than 900 points as a high school varsity player. And he’s just a freshman.
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On a Saturday at Jonathan Byrd’s Fieldhouse in Westfield, the 6-foot Parker glides to the basket and rises above a defender to easily drop the ball over the rim for two points. On the next possession, it appears he’s about to drive again, but instead he stops just inside the free-throw line and fires a pass to Hiatt Dunlap on the wing for a 3-pointer.
Parker’s talent is easy to spot, though this is hardly a normal high school game environment. There is a third-grade game on an adjacent court and a fifth-grade game another court over.
Parker plays for the Indianapolis Homeschool Wildcats, who operate outside of the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The Wildcats, founded in 1994, are one of the top home-school programs in the country, the two-time defending state champion of the Indiana Christian Basketball Alliance with four Elite Eight finishes in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships.
Jeremy Bialek, a former Perry Meridian assistant, took over as the Wildcats’ coach in 2001-02. In that time, the Wildcats have developed into one of the bigger home-school programs in the country with teams down to the elementary school level.
“At the time, my wife and I knew we wanted to home school,” Bialek said. “What we heard from a lot of home-school parents was, ‘What about athletics?’ So I wanted to try and see if we could make it competitive to the point where someone could come in and be a great player and parents can still do educationally what they want with home schooling.”
The team doesn’t have a “home” though it practices regularly at The Gathering Place, operated by the Community Church of Greenwood. Most of the basketball players have come from Central Indiana, though some have come from as far away as Bloomington and New Albany.
Dunlap, a senior captain, grew up in Greenwood and now lives in Franklin Township. He’s in his eighth year of the program.
“I think we’re getting our name out there,” Dunlap said. “We’re playing the toughest schedule now that we’ve ever played. It helps when you bring a team to the wire or beat a public-school team. It helps our reputation. Other teams say, ‘Well, we should give this home-school team a shot.’”
It also helps to have Tayson Parker.
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The Parker family, originally from Kokomo, was living in Memphis when Tayson first started playing basketball. Robert Parker’s job with FedEx relocated the family to the company’s headquarters for five years.
Once Tayson started playing basketball in Tennessee, he picked it up quickly.
“The first year I was terrible,” he said. “I couldn’t make a layup. Then I started working on it (and) more coaches started noticing me. I got with some better teams and worked on my skills more.”
Parker played grassroots basketball with established programs like Team Thad and Team Penny. During the high school season, he played with the home-school Memphis Nighthawks. He played with the varsity team last year as an eighth-grader and scored more than 600 points.
“We actually saw him for the first time when he was in sixth grade at the national tournament in Springfield, Mo.,” Bialek said. “Our team had walked over just about everybody and Tayson’s team throttled us. You knew right away this kid was going to be pretty good.”
When Robert Parker’s job with FedEx allowed him to work remotely, the Parkers jumped on the opportunity to move back to Kokomo. Tayson was already familiar with the Wildcats program from their meetings at the national tournaments.
“It’s definitely pushed my skills this year, playing against older and better teams,” Tayson said. “Indiana is supposedly the breadbasket of basketball and we play a lot of good teams.”
The Wildcats are 12-4 this season with losses to state-ranked teams in Culver Academy (70-54), Tindley (69-52) and Manual (89-73). Detroit Cornerstone, a ranked team in Michigan, was the Wildcats’ other loss (74-61).
Parker had 31 points in the loss to Tindley. He’s averaging 19.3 points and 7.1 rebounds to lead the Wildcats. Earlier this week, he picked up his first Division I offer, from Tennessee-Martin.
“It’s been easy to welcome him in,” Dunlap said. “He comes from a great family.”
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The Parkers – who have four other children – adopted Tayson when he was 15 months old. Even at that young age, he was an athlete.
“He could drop-kick a football anywhere in the yard,” Melissa said. “He was just a little guy, but he could run and run. He was a good soccer player when he played.”
The Parkers are often asked if Tayson will stay with the Homeschool Wildcats all the way through high school. The Indiana High School Athletic Association passed a rule in 2013 to allow home-school students to have athletic eligibility at the public school serving their legal residence if they enrolled at the school for one class per day.
But school corporations aren’t required to accept dual-enrolled students. And some schools – like Kokomo – require a home-school student to attend more than one class per day at the school. It’s an option the Parkers have considered.
“We always said that it’s year-to-year,” Melissa Parker said. “But being here with the Wildcats organization, we feel like they meet our needs. It’s a really good program. For the first time, I think he’s going make it all the way through (his senior year) with the Wildcats. We feel pretty confident.”
Tayson said he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out by not playing at an IHSAA school. After the season, he’ll play with the Indiana Elite club program.
“I really like where I’m at,” he said. “Coach Jeremy has helped me not only as a basketball player but as a man. We’re getting a lot of great opportunities.”
As for the future? Parker’s dream is to play at Purdue.
“My whole family went there and I’ve been to their camps and everything,” he said. “I like their coaching style. Hopefully it happens.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.