Wednesday, September 15, 1999
like Smith are
Punahou's Parker Smith is the
best prep volleyball player in the state,
but you won't hear it
By Ben Henry
Special to the Star-Bulletin
DIG ... set ... smack ... and before the blink of an eye, the ball pounds the court with a melodic thud between the legs of a perplexed back-row digger on the other side of the net.
The administrator of this court abuse, a lanky, blond-haired high school senior, smacks the ball with crispness that anyone who's ever donned aloha-print shorts would be proud of. When he jumps, he towers over the net with effortless, efficient motion, not wasting a fraction of a calorie.
He is someone any setter would want on his team -- someone who you knew that if you could just get him the ball, chances are your team would be serving next. He is the type of guy who is good and knows it, but would never admit it. And above all, he's someone you wouldn't want to have to dig.
Or try to, anyway.
Some say he's the type of player you wouldn't mind paying to watch. But when Parker Smith hits the ball, all he sees is what could have been.
He spends hours lifting weights, jumping on sand and visualizing the perfect shot, the perfect dig, the perfect set. But rarely when he applies those visions is he satisfied with the result.
"I guess I just see room for improvement that maybe other people don't see," he said. "I see a lot of little things. There's always things I could have done differently, like reaching higher or being more explosive."
His team, defending state champion Punahou, certainly appreciates his talents -- so much so that his coach is worried about it becoming a one-man team.
"I don't want to throw all my eggs in one basket," said head coach Scott Rigg. "It's hard not to do that. I think we're not giving away any secrets by calling him our go-to guy. It's nice to have a Terminator -- not everyone's got one."
Smith's not the most imposing guy on the court -- his 175-pound frame makes it hard to believe he's 6-foot-4 -- but when he attacks that ball, he shows everyone why volleyball calls it a "kill."
"He's a rubber-band kind of guy," Rigg said. "When you see him jump, when you see him explode ... he's like a tight rubber band."
Andy Read, who was Smith's coach last summer when he played on the 18 and under U.S. National Youth team and who is also a Long Beach State assistant coach, has nothing but good things to say about him.
On his athleticism: "He was the best athlete on the team (last summer) -- he's very quick and jumps extremely well. He could play any sport and be good at it."
As a volleyball player: "He is the best athlete at that age level that I've coached. He can do things on the court that no one else can do."
As a person: "He's very polite and very coachable -- any coach would like to have him."
On his future: "If he dominates in college like I think he can, he could be looking at the national team and the Olympics. He's an Olympic-caliber athlete. A team needs someone like him on the floor to win gold medals."
Those close to him describe him as unassuming and humble. His greatest athletic thrill has nothing to do with him making the national 18-and-under team or being the only junior on last year's all-state team. Rather, it involves the realization of teamwork. "Seeing us improve as the year goes on ... By the last game, it's really fun to see everyone working hard and coming together perfectly," he said. "It's a great feeling."
Along with volleyball and surfing, Smith lists training as one of his loves in life, an unusual choice for most 17-year-olds. "I like seeing improvement," he said. "It's a great feeling when you get stronger -- you just feel better."
Smith acknowledges that his goal of being successful on the Division I level won't be easy to accomplish. "I saw that this summer," he said. "We played a bunch of international teams. It was exciting -- such a challenge. It's just way more intense."
Nonetheless, Smith's coaches feel he's on the fast track to a successful volleyball career. "A healthy Parker Smith is a tremendous asset for USA volleyball," Read said. "There are not many like him that are playing the game right now. This kid's special."