Five things to know about 2023 Ohio State commitment Austin Parks

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

ST. MARYS, Ohio – Ohio State fans clamoring for more size in the frontcourt got some big news Sunday afternoon.

At a press conference on the stage inside his school’s auditorium, St. Marys Memorial center Austin Parks ended his recruitment and announced his verbal commitment to Ohio State for the class of 2023. Listed at 6-9, 240 pounds, Parks will provide immediate size and physicality for the Buckeyes when he steps foot on campus next year.

He picked Ohio State from a list of finalists that also included Indiana and West Virginia. Upon his arrival, he is expected to be part of a formidable frontcourt that will also feature 2022 signee Felix Okpara, a 6-11, 210-pound center playing his senior season for Branson (Missouri) Link Academy. Okpara is ranked as a four-star prospect, the No. 11 center and overall No. 50 national prospect according to the 247Sports.com composite database.

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The 2023 rankings are due to refresh soon, but Parks is currently stands No. 148 nationally, No. 18 at his position and is considered a three-star recruit by the same rankings. ESPN lists him as a four-star prospect.

Here are five things to know about the second player to commit to the Buckeyes for the class of 2023, joining four-star guard George Washington III from Christian Academy of Louisville.

St. Marys  Memorial center Austin Parks is ranked No. 148 nationally, No. 18 at his position in the 247Sports composite standings.

1. Parks wasn’t born in Ohio

When it came time to announce his decision, Parks had the support of a crowd that likely reached triple digits. He was surrounded by friends, family members, prep teammates, AAU teammates and other members of the community who came to the school to see one of their own take a step into the spotlight.

The town of St. Marys, located at one end of what was once the largest human-man lake in the world, has embraced Parks and his family. But if you ask the future Buckeye where he’s from, his answer might surprise you.

“He’ll say Texas, but he loves Ohio and this is his home now and he knows that,” his father, Bob Starke, said.

Starke has family both in Ohio and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which is where he and Austin’s mom, Shari Parks met. They moved to St. Marys when Austin was 2 and have stayed ever since.

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“We decided we (were) going to come up north and spend time with my family here, and we weren’t planning on being here forever, but it looks like we’re going to be here forever,” his dad said with a laugh.

“He surrounds himself with all these good people out here,” Shari said. “All these people in Rider Nation made him who he is today.”

2. Proximity to home was a factor in the decision

Parks has two older sisters back in Texas. He’s 17, and they are 42 and 31, Starke said. He is his mother’s only child, and she joked that she got started late in life while wishing she had 10 more boys like Austin. Both Bob and Shari referenced the fact that their lone son playing roughly 90 minutes away will be a source of comfort for them both.

“Everything we’ve done, we’ve tried to make sure he’s gonna be OK,” said Starke. “We’re a little older as far as normal parents. We worried that if anything ever happened to us, what would we do? He’s going to be OK. That was our main concern.”

What was it about his decision that allayed that concern?

“The school that he’s going to,” Starke said. “He’s going to be educated. He can only go up from here now. Ohio State, come on now. Come on.”

Ohio State recruit Austin Parks (center) from St. Marys Memorial poses with his mother and coach Chris Holtmann during a recruiting visit.

3. His mother was a collegiate athlete

This season, Ohio State junior forward E.J. Liddell has drawn national attention for his ability to block shots. Listed at 6-7, Liddell is No. 51 nationally in block percentage according to KenPom.com, meaning he rejects 8.5% of the two-point shots attempted while he’s on the court.

Liddell’s mother, Michelle, played collegiate volleyball, and he has credited her for his leaping abilities. Parks’ mother, too, played collegiate volleyball at UT-Arlington.

“I went to college, full-ride volleyball scholarship in Texas,” she said, before laughing. “I take 100% of the credit. Yes, I am the athlete. Yeah, I’m gonna take some credit, but really, I’ll give him 99% of it.”

Indiana and West Virginia were his other finalists, but the Hoosiers and Buckeyes were his top two.

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4. He called every coach who had recruited him to let him know his final decision

Like most players, Parks built strong bonds with coaches at multiple schools while being recruited. As he started to narrow his list and ultimately make a decision, Parks’ parents told him he would need to call each school and tell them he wasn’t going to pick them.

It was tough, but Shari said it was important.

“We felt that was right,” she said. “Every single one of those coaches had nothing but respect and said anything you need, any questions you have throughout this process, call anytime, like in the next 4-5 years, because he stepped up and called those coaches. I’d be right here beside him when he was calling and I was like, I’m glad I’m not you. He just handled it like a man, dude.”

Parks committed to the Buckeyes in person while on a visit for the Feb. 6 home game against Maryland. The conversation took place prior to tip-off, and a recording of the moment was part of the video montage shown in the auditorium when Parks announced his commitment.

Three-star center prospect Austin Parks committed to Ohio State for the 2023 recruiting class at a ceremony in the St. Marys Memorial High School auditorium Sunday.

“They were elated,” his father said of the Ohio State staff. “Everything was great. The whole room went upside down. The thing about it was they had a game to play an hour, hour and a half later and you could tell coach Holtmann needed to get downstairs, but he got the news he was looking for. It was great.”

5. Expectations are high that Parks will outplay his rankings

Parks plays his prep ball in a region that has produced high-level talent but does not always play aesthetically pleasing basketball. In Parks’ case, that often means going against teams that will just run bodies at him and try to overcome his natural physical gifts and honed talent with sheer numbers.

Jake Meisler, founder of the Ohio Buckets AAU team that features Parks, said it’s common for Ohioans like Parks to be improperly rated by the national rankings.

“I think you get that in all small-town Ohio,” he said. “Any time you get in a rural city, I don’t know about overlooked but maybe not as high-profile as some of the central Ohio guys or Cincinnati guys. Honestly, I think that works in his favor. The kid puts his time in down here and then he shows up on those big scenes and outperforms a lot of other people. It’s worked out in his favor tremendously.”

Meisler actually has a tie to St. Marys Memorial: he played college basketball for Damon Goodwin, a Roughrider product, at Capital University. Parks has started to expand his game to 15 feet, Meisler said, and continues to grow his skills.

“He’ll need to continue to improve that, especially at the college level, but I think he’s going to be pretty versatile for coach Holtmann and his staff,” he said. “I think they’ll be able to use him in a variety of ways but back-to-basket, he’s certainly one of the best big men in his class in the country. It’s a good foundation for him to start with.”

With his decision out of the way, Parks said he can fully devote his focus to getting better.

“Now I don’t have to worry about talking to all these different schools and working for all this (recruiting stuff),” he said. “Of course, I’m still going to work and all, but now I can just go out there and play basketball and do what I can do. ... Hopefully I can be one of the greatest to come out of Ohio State.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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