On the court or the field, or simply walking across campus, former senior guard Dai-Jon Parker could be seen with a bright smile on his face, something that friends and coaches say made a big impact even in his short time at the University of Indianapolis. Parker, who transferred to UIndy last fall from Vanderbilt University, passed away May 28 in a tubing accident.
Men’s Basketball Head Coach Stan Gouard first met Parker while on a recruiting trip at Vanderbilt University. Gouard said he only had to spend little time with Parker to realize what an incredible person he was.
“I spent a few hours with him, and it was [a] no brainer that I wanted him on our team, mainly because of his personality, his positive outlook on life,” Gouard said. “He had made a few mistakes at Vanderbilt, and he knew it was a second chance. Some things he said about his life made me feel special to bring him with me and build his life. Even in a short amount of time, he touched my life in a major way.”
In his single basketball season at UIndy, Parker was one of only two Greyhounds to start in all 31 games. He scored in the double digits 14 times.
Gouard said that not only his athleticism, but also his attitude, made him an incredible asset for the team.
“[He was] unbelievable,” Gouard said. “I would define him as the perfect teammate. There wasn’t a day that he had a bad attitude in a game or even in practice. We all have bad days, but through it all he kept that smile of his and encouraged his teammates. Even in the games we lost, although there were few, he smiled because he knew there was light at the end of the day. There’s a lot of pressure on these young men as student athletes, but he always came in and accepted that wholeheartedly.”
Gouard credited Parker’s mother in her son’s success.
“I talk to his [Parker’s] mother once a week, just to see how she is doing, because we are all dealing with it on a day-to-day basis; and I told her that I have never met a happier person in my entire life,” Gouard said. “I commended her for the way she raised him and how she helped teach him how he approached life on a daily basis.”
Besides playing basketball, Parker chose to walk on and play football during the 2015 spring season. Redshirt sophomore defensive back Aeneas White met Parker before football and said that he knew right away that Parker was someone special.
“I was introduced to him as one of [senior guard] Jordan Loyd’s friends, so I already figured he’d be a pretty cool guy,” White said. “I immediately realized he was a silly guy like myself, and that made me even closer with this guy.”
White said that Parker motivated him to work harder, even though they were teammates for just a few weeks.
“He was a teammate of mine for a short period of time, but for that, he was one to always bring the best competitor out of whoever he faced,” White said. “He was a freak athlete, and going against him in practice every day definitely made me a better player. And as a friend— I could go on for days— but he was a guy that always gave off happy vibes. I had never seen anyone stay in a bad mood when he was present. Even now that he’s gone, when I am down about anything, I find myself thinking about a fun time I had with him, and it brings a smile to my face.”
Gouard said that teammates spend many hours together in practice, travelling to and from games, and even outside of the sport, and the team is dealing with its loss on a day-to-day basis. According to Gouard, Loyd recently changed his jersey number from 24 to 3, which was Parker’s. Gouard said Loyd and Parker had been friends since they were about eight years old and played Amateur Athletic Union Boys Basketball together.
“Dai-Jon [Parker] attended UIndy based on talking to Jordan [Loyd],” Gouard said. “He never came for a visit or anything before. He just came based on what he heard from his best friend. It takes time. Time is healing. We all reference what he has done because his legacy will carry on. When a person comes into your life like Dai-Jon, it’s something you never forget.”
As soon as the news of Parker’s death was released, Gouard said, the entire university reached out to comfort the team, and he is very grateful for President Robert Manuel, Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Sue Willey and all other administrative support. The university helped send the entire team to Louisiana for Parker’s funeral.
Parker was also 11 credit hours away from graduating, according to Gouard, and was determined to receive his degree. Next May, he will receive an honorary degree and his mother will walk in his honor at commencement.
Gouard said that he had many personal favorite memories of Parker, but last Thanksgiving left a lasting impression on him.
“I had players over for Thanksgiving last year,” Gouard said. “My wife, my wife’s best friend and my brother were all cooking. The entire team came in around the same time, and everybody headed to the basement to hang out and play video games. Everybody except Dai- Jon. He had never met my wife or any of them, but [he] walked right into the kitchen and gave them all a hug. He stayed in the kitchen the entire time they were cooking. He tried to help cook, clean and set the table for dinner. My wife turned to me and said, ‘He is such a good kid.’
“It was an unbelievable experience and shows that he never met a stranger. That’s just how he was as a person. He always wanted people to smile. The world lost a great person, but we were blessed here at UIndy because he was a tremendous impact, not on just me, but the entire university.”