Basketball, Business, Brains and Beyond at USC: The Reggie Parris Story

The inspirational story of former USC men's basketball player Reggie Parris.

As a former USC men’s basketball player and Willis O’Hunter award winner for the highest male-athlete GPA , Reggie Parris has always worn multiple hats. Before transferring to USC, he was a multisport athlete playing baseball and basketball at San Diego. While at USC he was a walk-on basketball player on a team that went to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament twice during his tenure.

It was here that he significantly lifted up the team’s GPA and also inspired teammates off the court. Now, having graduated with the Willis O’Hunter award earlier this year, he wears many hats as a client success associate at Rebel Ventures, dealing with athletes and their agents collaborating on marketing deals with major brands, but it wasn’t always this way.

Parris may have achieved a 3.97 GPA as a student-athlete at USC, but there is much to be learned from his early struggles along the path that got him to where he is today. Even though Parris is now known for his excellence in education as an athlete, he wasn’t always the best student early in his educational journey.

“When I started school, believe it or not, I wasn’t the best student by any means. I had a hard time following instructions,” said Parris. “I remember in kindergarten I had to have a meeting with my parents and my teacher [for them to discuss], ‘He’s struggling, we need to kind of correct this course he’s going on,’ because had it not been for my parents or having good teachers, I could have gone down the wrong path so I’m very fortunate that was corrected at an early age.”

By the time he got into high school, Parris not only had a stellar work ethic, but had turned education into his own personal sport. He says it was this competitive mindset that allowed him to excel in academics.

“It was almost like another sport for me. I would walk into class [thinking] I’m going to come in and I’m going to do my very best and challenge myself,” said Parris. “I want to come in and look at the people around me and say, ‘I’m going to get a better grade on this test or I’m willing to study harder than the rest of this group,’ so I almost viewed education as a competition in a way and I think that just being a natural competitor and having that sports background motivated me to be a good student as well.”

Parris, a natural competitor, may have found joy in the process of hard work on his education through competition, but there was more to it than that. Parris learned earlier than most athletes that it can all come to an end at any moment.

Parris was a star baseball player before he even became a teenager, but a fractured kneecap at 12 years old began the realization that sports may not last forever. That didn’t stop him as he played games on a broken kneecap, had three surgeries and still made the University of San Diego baseball and basketball team.

It was here that he realized his dreams of going pro may not come to fruition and he began to apply his most valuable lesson of being able to pivot and adjust to the curveballs life throws. Parris played basketball growing up having been named to the First Team All-State All-Academic Team as a sophomore, junior and senior in high school for both baseball and basketball.

When baseball wasn’t panning out as expected at San Diego it was his assistant basketball coach Martin Bahar, former assistant coach and director of scouting for the USC men’s basketball team, who helped convince him that USC would be in his best interests, particularly for education. Parris knew that while some of his athleticism had waned from injuries, he could still provide great value to the USC Trojans, so he offered to try out as a walk-on.

With his GPA being an asset to bring up the whole team’s GPA and having proven himself a capable player when called upon, Parris made the team, continuing his journey as a student athlete. However, his role on the team was different from others.

“I was a walk-on. I didn’t get heavy playing time,” said Parris. “I accepted the role that the team depended on me being a good student. It helps our team GPA. Understanding where you fit and what your role is and your priorities [are key.]”

This allowed Parris to give his teammates advice in aspects outside of basketball.

“You never know when sports are going to come to an end and that’s something that I was always trying to push some of my college teammates to understand,” said Parris. “You never know when sports are going to be taken from you, whether that’s an injury or whatever the circumstances may be. You have to have something to fall back on. You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

This is a lesson that is applicable in sports, but also in life with today’s gig economy forcing employees to wear multiple hats in many jobs. We’ve seen many athletes begin to prepare themselves for life after sports. One athlete who has inspired Parris is current Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

Parris is inspired by how James has not only excelled as an athlete, but with his off-court endeavors in the community, as a father and in business. Parris’s father Herb Parris played college basketball and had ties to USA basketball, so the younger Parris grew up around the game.

Parris grew up in Denver only 20 minutes away from 2004 NBA Finals MVP and current head coach of the Portland Trailblazers Chauncey Billups. Through his father’s USA Basketball connections Parris was also inspired by JJ Reddick.

Despite Reddick never being an All Star, he’s had an All-Star career off the court, having turned his podcast into a career as a prominent basketball analyst and personality on ESPN. “Those kind of stories, where you have success on the court, but what it means off the court, is [sometimes] even more impressive,” said Parris.

Even as a walk-on Parris was still attending games, practices and workouts, living the life of a student athlete. Many student athletes understandably struggle to balance education and athletics, so how was Parris able to excel in the classroom more than any other male student athlete?

“Once I commit to something, and this goes for anyone, once you commit and have that mind set, this just needs to get done. This is what’s important to me,” said Parris. “Some things had to fall back. I wasn’t out partying all the time. I had to have a good sense of what’s important and what I value so I could achieve those things… those are the sacrifices you have to make in order to get the outcomes you want.

This balance and work ethic have led Parris into the next chapter of his life. Parris originally thought he would have to settle for a career in finance or accounting with his good marks and his business education. However, Parris realized he could combine all his passions together as he continued to adjust, the way he always has.

In his current position with Rebel Ventures as a client success associate, he continues to be the great teammate he always has, but now he can build relationships with athletes and help them cultivate major marketing deals and sponsorships as they grow their personal brands. Parris credits the innovation promoted at USC for opening his eyes to a career in sports, as he now travels to multiple states and countries helping athletes and doing what he loves.

Parris is very happy with his current position, but after he was invited to attend a class by legendary USC Professor Jeff Fellenzer at the Sports Business Classroom Basketball Immersion Program at the Las Vegas Summer League, he sees even more possibilities. The Sports Business Classroom basketball immersion program, where I met Reggie while majoring in media, also has a salary cap major, preparing individuals who hope to be in a front office position one day.

Parris is happy working with an agency building relationships with athletes, but after his experience this summer, he’s not ruling out giving back to basketball by one day working with an NBA team and even becoming a GM. No matter where this promising intellectual’s path takes him, one thing will remain consistent.

“Being able to adjust, being able to have something to fall back on, where if this route doesn’t work out ‘I’ll be alright. I have this work ethic or skill or trade to be successful and know I can handle whatever situation might be thrown at me,’” said Parris. He advises others to keep, “trusting in your work ethic and yourself to find a way to be successful.”

Those are words we can all live by.

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