When Fairport’s Scott Fitch began his coaching career roughly 20 years ago, he never expected that a teenager would become one of his closet coaching confidants.
Now, as the Red Raiders prepare for a sectional run, they’re hoping that their secret weapon, analytics whiz-kid Nick Parker, can give them a leg up on the competition.
When he was in eighth-grade Parker had already developed a passion for mathematics and basketball. With the rise of the use of analytics in all levels of basketball, it provided Parker with an avenue to combine the two.
“Coach (Erik) Zimmerman, our junior varsity coach, was my teacher and I was doing stats for my youth team. I would take stats on the bench and I kind of created a spreadsheet analyzing some of our stats,” Parker said.
Parker kept the data to himself at first, but a little encouragement from one of his parents led him to showing to Zimmerman.
“My dad encouraged me to show Coach Zimmerman and I showed him after school one day and he asked me if I would come do it for him. I started off doing just the home games, then all the games and then my sophomore year they asked me to do varsity and it took off from there.”
Analytics have become a staple of the Fairport program as Fitch recognized its value during his time as an assistant coach with USA Basketball. Once he heard about Parker, he couldn’t wait to see what he could do.
“It was funny because as you keep interacting with (Nick) you see he’s not your typical manager,” Fitch said. “All of a sudden, I knew I wanted him with me and I tried to steal him right away, but we had to be patient. I knew right away he was different.”
Since joining the varsity staff Parker, 18, has continued to become a valuable asset. He breaks down game film, calculates the plus-minus of each lineup combination and records every shot the players take.
The senior doesn’t just compile data, he’s able to analyze it and bring Fitch suggestions on how the team or individual players can improve their efficiency like he did with the Red Raiders guards.
“He broke down each shooting spot for each guy and we learned that one guy shot 62 percent from the left corner 3, but from the right corner 3 he was only 31 percent,” Fitch said. “All of sudden when we run plays, we’re trying to get him to his hot spot.
“Then there was another guy that was shooting 38 percent from 3 and like 60 percent from layups, but in the mid-range he was only shooting 12 percent. So, now that’s not a good shot for us and I think he’s impacted our whole season because of moments like that.”
Parker even created his own “hustle'”stat and after every practice, he selects one player who earned the hustle award.
“When I started going to varsity practices we were trying to think of a way to quantify hustle, but we weren’t sure how to do it at first. I started doing things like dives, tips and offensive rebounds, but what we found is that big men were winning the hustle award more,” Parker said.
“We had to figure out how to weight things differently to even it out. I think we have a pretty good formula that really quantifies how hard someone is hustling.”
When Parker announced the winner on Wednesday morning, varsity and junior varsity players alike broke out in a cheer. Before that he quietly observed practice with his tablet in hand. He makes sure to interact with most of the players as they walk by him on the sidelines.
“My favorite moments are when I pull guys aside and I’ll suggest something to them. I’ll tell them what they could be doing better … or ‘you should be here, not here.’ When they take that information and use it, it’s really fulfilling to see them succeed from that,” Parker said.
The Red Raiders players have come to respect Parker, knowing he has their best interests at heart. That ability to connect with his peers is one reason why schools like Virginia Tech and James Madison are interested in bringing him on as a manager.
“He could fit right in at the USA level and I’m going to try and make that happen if I can. I think he’s going to be on a Division I staff next year, I believe in him that much,” Fitch said.
Fitch, who will coach Isaiah Stewart and nine other standouts for USA Basketball at the Nike Hoops Summit in April, has been around the sharpest minds the game has to offer and he believes Parker is one of them.
“For Nick and any of the other kids I come in contact with, I don’t want them to have a ceiling. I think the sky’s the limit for him and I think he could be in any NBA organization and he brings value. As a coach you want all the information you can get and then you utilize it the way you think its best,” Fitch said.
Thoughts of joining an NBA front office are already crossing his mind, but for now Parker is just focused on staying in the moment and helping fourth-seeded Fairport (14-6) get prepared for its sectional quarterfinal game with No. 12 Edison (2-19) at 7 p.m. Friday.