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Lured by the lake

Avid fisherman hooked on FGCU by angling and fledging basketball program

Chris Highfield didn’t know it at the time, but the deal was sealed when he told Marcus Parker, “There’s a lake behind what would be your dorm.”

Parker (’06, Liberal Studies) had grown up in the Florida Panhandle and found nothing more sublime than pulling a bass out of the Blackwater River, which runs through Milton. When Parker visited FGCU on a basketball recruiting trip in 2001, Highfield – then the assistant coach – had no gym to show him. But there was that lake.

“I love fishing,” Parker says. “I was like, ‘Wow, these dorms are awesome. They back up to a lake. I can fish every day after practice. Sign me up.’ ”

Parker was the first freshman FGCU signed to its fledgling basketball program. His career never turned out to be what he dreamed of. The 6-foot guard/forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee 10 days before he was to start the first game of his freshman season. Although he was never the same after that, he positioned himself to be a starter in his senior season. And then he tore his other ACL about four months before the season, limiting him to just eight games.

But he kept a fishing rod in his locker at Alico Arena and made countless post-practice trips to that lake. That stoked his love for the sport and led to a competitive fishing career after he became FGCU’s first four-year player to graduate – in 2006 with a degree in liberal studies.

He has competed in dozens of regional events in the Bassmaster Opens Tournament Series, with a best finish of sixth place, which earned him $10,000. These days, he enters tournaments near Houston, where he lives in suburban Pearland and works as a regional territory manager for Lakeshore Learning, which creates education materials for early childhood development.

Parker said he never expected FGCU to become Dunk City. But when the Eagles made their run to the Sweet 16 in 2013, he was there in spirit. He watched every game while wearing the same uniform and warmup he wore as a player there.

“The beauty of college basketball, especially for low to mid D-1s, is all you really need is a chance,” he says. “The guys can make the Sweet 16 and feel like they won the national championship. Or you can win your conference and make it to the NCAA Tournament and everybody’s thrilled. I don’t know what the feeling is at FGCU right now, but I know it has all the right ingredients to be great. The community is thirsty for these programs and all of these things point to the sky being the limit.”