Sydney Parrish had plenty of options. She could’ve been a key piece for any number of prominent college basketball programs. Indiana. Iowa. Kentucky. Maryland. South Carolina. Tennessee. UCLA.
But in the end, she chose to go more than 2,200 miles away from home to play for Oregon. She made her decision earlier than most — she was one of the first top-ranked players in her class to commit, and the first to choose the Ducks.
“‘I want to win a national championship,’” Parrish told her mom, Aimee. I want to win at every level. I don’t have to be the star. I feel like Oregon can do that.”
Her recruitment got “very big, very quickly,” said Danny Riego, Parrish’s AAU coach. But Oregon was one of the first programs to show serious interest. Head coach Kelly Graves began showing up during the summer after Parrish’s freshman year, and stuck around for the duration of the process.
“She has always been close with her head coaches,” Riego said. “I think her and Kelly hit it off and I think she could see herself playing for him for four years.”
When Parrish and her family went to visit Oregon, they met the Ducks coaching staff at a restaurant for dinner. Not long after they sat down, the entire team came in. But Parrish didn’t feel as if she were being recruited to join the team. She felt as if she were already part of it.
“It didn’t even seem like they were trying to convince me,” she said. “It was them coming to dinner and hanging out. We were having a really good time, and I instantly clicked.”
That visit was the beginning of a friendship between Parrish and Sabrina Ionescu, who won National Player of the Year honors.
“She didn’t act like she was the best player in the nation. She didn’t have an ego. She was like anybody else you’d meet,” Parrish said. “She’s become a great influence on me and what I want to become one day.”
Ionescu showed Parrish what kind of people — not just what kind of players — Oregon is bringing in.
“I know Oregon is recruiting great people that are coming in, and they’ll continue to do that for years to come,” she said.
As Parrish was leaving campus, she said something to her mom that made Aimee realize it might not be the last time they visited.
“I don’t want to leave,” she said.
Her decision was solidified after a home visit by Graves. The authenticity and lack of a sales pitch were exactly what Parrish needed to hear.
“It was like I’d known him forever. It was like he was coming over for a cookout,” she said. “I started getting emotional when he left. I just knew.”
Then came what was the hardest part of the process — not making a decision, but telling everyone else no. She made phone calls to every single coach who had recruited her to tell them she was going elsewhere. Each call was harder than the one before.
“These people invested time, money, effort, time away from their families,” Aimee Parrish said. “We needed her to know, ‘That was a lot of effort they put into you so you need to show them the same respect.
“She shed tears for every single one of them. After she got done with one, she said, ‘I can’t do another one.’”
Since Parrish verbally committed, four others in the 2020 class have joined her in choosing Oregon. Four of the program’s five commits from the class are ranked in ESPN’s Top 25, and all are in the Top 50. Parrish leads the way at No. 11. No other program in the nation has commitments from as many top-ranked recruits in the class.
So what’s next for Parrish?
She figures to be the leading contender for IndyStar Miss Basketball, and she’ll be the focal point for a Hamilton Southeastern (Fishers, Indiana) team trying to repeat as 4A champions. The roster will have a different look this season after five seniors from last year’s title team graduated. But it presents another opportunity.
“She wants to prove she can lead a team,” Riego said. “She’s one of the leaders on our EYBL team and I think she wants to validate (her state title). Syd is a great player in her own right, but that championship was the collective work of a great team. For her to be able to build another team — it’ll be built around her — I think she wants to prove she can lead a team to that again. I think that’s motivating her.”