Mike Parker, known as "Park the Shark" on the Marquette message boards, has been around Marquette for a long time. Growing up with a father in the military, Mike lived in many different cities, but it was when his father was stationed in Germany, that Mike became interested in Marquette University. "I was a big college basketball fan, but back then, there was no internet, the only college basketball news I got, was from Sports Illustrated. There was an issue with an article on Marquette Coach Al McGuire turning down the NCAA to play in the NIT. That is when I first started to follow Marquette basketball."
The family returned to the states, and was stationed out East when Mike started looking at colleges. "I applied to Holy Cross, UMass, UConn and Marquette. Each school had sent me a catalog, but Marquette, they sent me a newsletter every single month. It really told me that they weren't just looking for me, they meant business."
The rest is history. Not only did the oldest of five children go on to Marquette and graduate in 1976, but three of his siblings followed his path. Mike decided to make Marquette and Milwaukee his home, and he and his wife Carol raised their two children in Wauwatosa. Their oldest, Meagan, is graduating with her masters from the University of Wisconsin this spring, and their son Dan is a senior at UWM.
December hit the Parker family hard, as Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The news really shook the family, but with a lot of love and strong faith, they grew closer together.
It wasn't long after Mike started radiation treatment that Kent Wainscot, a family friend, reached out to the Steve "the Homer True", the voice of Marquette basketball, to see if he could get any old Marquette videos that Mike could watch during his chemo treatments. Kent and Homer come through with games, including those from the Great Alaskan Shootout with Dwyane Wade and the 2003 NCAA game against Missouri. They also passed along Mike's cell phone number, and one day in January Mike received an unexpected call.
"Kent and Homer have been great. Kent has done so much, and Homer even asked me to go to the Final Four, but it was what they did for me in January that meant so much. It was then that my cell phone rang, and it was Buzz Williams calling. He said he had heard about my situation. We talked for a long time as he asked me about my illness, my treatments and my family. Then he asked me if he could pray with me. I was overcome with emotion, and as Buzz prayed, I cried. It didn't stop there, he called me once a month after that too. What's amazing, is that he remembered everything – about my treatment, my family, my kids – he remembers it all."
It was late Tuesday night when I heard from Buzz. He contacted me asking how Mike was doing. I told him of the latest update, and Buzz told me, "I want you to do me a favor. Bring Mike to the banquet. He can come right before it starts, I will give him a special seat, he can wear sweats if he needs to, and he can leave when he gets tired. I want him to be there." So, I got in touch with Mike, and he was good to go. His wife Carol told me that when Mike learned that Buzz had wanted him there, he was grinning from ear to ear.
On Wednesday, Buzz called me about an hour before the event, instructing me to bring Mike to the Kasten Gym at 7:20.
Mike & I got to the Al and about 7:00. We were greeted almost immediately by Barb Kellaher, who wanted to make sure Mike was well taken care of. Having been away from his Marquette friends since his diagnosis, there was no slowing Mike down as he wanted to talk hoops. We talked to a few people and then I told Mike we had to go.
Buzz Williams has said that he has his team pray before everything, every practice, every game, every meeting. Well, we arrived in the practice gym and everyone was standing around. Not just the team, but the coaches, staff, managers, trainers...everyone. As soon as Buzz said it's time, and the group headed to the middle of the court, and when they got there, Buzz called Mike to the middle. He had Mike tell the team who he was, and then had Mike tell the team what he was dealing with. Mid way through, Mike started to cry, and that is when the entire team moved in close and put their hands on Mike as Buzz started to pray. Buzz' prayer was not about the banquet, not about the team, not about the season, it was about Mike Parker and what he was dealing with. Buzz prayed for him, his doctors, his treatment, his wife and his kids.
There, in the middle of the gym, was the team that Mike cares so much about, caring about Mike. "It was incredible. I was overwhelmed. It was hard to keep my composure. I was concerned when they all put their hands on me that I was going to collapse, I mean, these are big athletic guys, but the feeling inside me, I can't even describe it."
When the prayer was over, one by one, the players and coaches came over to thank Mike for his support. "I could tell by the way they touched me when we prayed, and the way they talked to me, that they were firmly involved. They weren't just doing this, they believed in what they were doing."
Before we left the practice gym, Mike was able to get his picture with the team, and looking at Mike, you could see how much it meant to him.
During the awards presentation Buzz Williams gave a couple of different. emotional talks. One about where people grew up, and one about relationships. Both delivered strong, emotional messages to the crowd, but when Brad Autry addressed the crowd, he words really stood out to Mike. Autry told the crowd, "I would have crawled to Milwaukee to work for Buzz Williams, not because he can coach, but because of who he is as a person. Before we came out here we prayed with a man who is battling pancreatic cancer. Yesterday we prayed for a very young boy at the Mayo Clinic that is about to go through a terrifying surgery. That is who Buzz Williams is and what he is all about. He is about life, he is about people."
"That stood out to me." said Parker, "people need to realize that with Buzz Williams, what you see is what you get. There is no BS. He doesn't say and do these things as an act, this is who he is. It is important for people to know that he's the real deal. He instills in these kids, especially with a situation like mine; that they need to live life in the present. You need to live for today, and that is what I am doing with my life right now, that is what he is teaching them to do every day."
When the night was over I took Mike home and he said he wasn't ready for the night to end, so we went in and replayed the entire night for his wife. We could not have had a better time.
When Marquette was looking for a new head coach two years ago, many people wanted a "big name", many wanted a "proven head coach". But when hiring the new coach, Steve Cottingham said he went with his heart. He hired someone that nobody knew, someone that wasn't a proven head coach. He hired Buzz Williams. For what Marquette University is and what it stands for, they could not have hired anyone that was a better fit for Marquette University than Buzz Williams, and Mike Parker will be the first one to tell you so.
** Mike's daughter Meagan is participating in the "Purple Stride", a benefit for pancreatic cancer research in Chicago next month. If you would like to support her efforts, click on the link, look for Meagan Parker and donate under her name if you can. Purplestride-walk for pancreatic cancer