On a stifling morning last August, the Eastern Washington volleyball players gathered for practice. Doors were propped open, but the only breeze came from the basketball machine next door.
It fired balls into the hands of another machine: Eastern guard Parker Kelly, who returned at least nine out of 10 through the net. Hundreds of balls from Kelly’s hands, which were red-hot in more ways than one.
“It’s all about how the ball comes off the fingers, and the only way you can do that is by shooting constantly,” said Kelly, who demands the ball only because he demands so much of himself.
“If you’re going to take the shots, you have to put in the work.”
In other words, the sublime shooting touch is the product of a work ethic that Kelly has nurtured since grade school, at Gonzaga Prep and now at the Division I level at Eastern Washington.
In high school he said yes to yoga classes, to stretch the mind and the body. And he said no to one of the basic teenage food groups: pizza.
Nothing was taken for granted, even though his father, Terry, also was a shooting star at G-Prep in the 1970s and later at Washington State.
“Growing up I felt I could shoot the ball, but if you don’t work on it, it’s not going to pan out,” said Kelly, who calls his father “my first coach, and I always look to him for advice.”
Even today, the elder Kelly can be spotted on game days in the upper deck at Reese Court, watching and pacing nervously.
Parker Kelly was part of three state tournament teams at G-Prep; teammates included current GU guard David Stockton and former Washington State football lineman Travis Long.
Those teams fell short at state, but Kelly led the Bullpups to an unlikely state title in his senior year in 2010-11. At 6-foot-4, he was the tallest player on the team, so he had to move to the frontcourt.
“In the perfect world he wouldn’t be a post player for us, but he’s taken it and accepted it as a challenge,” G-Prep coach Matty McIntyre said at the time.
At state, the Bullpups capped a 23-3 season by beating Curtis 61-41 for the 4A title; along the way, the Bullpups knocked off pre-tourney favorite Garfield, 66-53.
“The experience was unbelievable, and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Prep,” said Kelly, who in three season helped the Bullpups go 73-11 overall and 45-5 in the Greater Spokane League.
The recruiting process began during his junior year. Kelly drew interest from Portland, Portland State, Idaho, Montana State and Whitworth, but didn’t get a full scholarship.
Initially recruited by Jim Hayford at Whitworth – until Hayford was hired by Eastern – Kelly decided to walk on with the Eagles.
Two and a half seasons later, he’s one of the top 3-point shooters in school history, hitting 41.7 percent of his shots. He’s also a team captain.
“I think it was part of God’s plan for Coach Hayford to come to Eastern, and I feel I was destined to come here and play here,” Kelly said.
As a true freshman walk-on in 2011-12, Kelly came off the bench in 30 of the 31 games he played, and made the first start of his career late in the season at Idaho State.
“Once you get a feel for the game, the whole speed of the game will slow down,” Kelly said. “Learning to play defense at a high level, I made it a strength of my game, where before it might have been a weakness.”
Kelly averaged 8.3 points per game in EWU’s last 10 games, and was 27 for 56 (48 percent) from 3-point range. He also made 91 percent of his free throws. In a crucial late-season win over Northern Colorado, he hit the game-winning 3 with 14 seconds left.
Last season, Kelly was one of a school-record nine Eagles selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team. He started 17 of the 28 games he played and finished the year averaging 9.5 points per game, while making a team-leading 55 of 137 3-point shots, for 40.1 percent.
Kelly went back to work in the offseason, playing at John Stockton’s Warehouse in north Spokane.
“John would always give me some pointers, and I learned some crucial things,” Kelly recalled of games that included former GU stars Matt Santangelo, Richie Frahm and others.
“When you play with that kind of caliber of players, you’re going to learn a lot,” Kelly said. “I just to soak it up.”
At the same time, Kelly hit the weights even harder, dropping his body fat from 9 percent to less than half that. He’s now a sculpted 195 pounds.
Said Hayford: “A lot of people want to be their best, but not committed. Parker’s a great young man who wants to be the best he can be.”