CHARLIE PARKER ’09 and his SIDELINE CANCER team grabbed the nation’s attention during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic during The Basketball Tournament (TBT), which aired nationally on ESPN. Parker served as the team’s head coach as it pulled off an improbable run as the No. 22 seed in a 24-team tournament and finished as the runner-up, coming within five points (a 78-73 loss to a team of Marquette alums) of the $1 million prize.
THE TOURNAMENT TOOK PLACE VERY EARLY IN THE PANDEMIC BEFORE ANY OTHER SPORTS LEAGUES GOT BACK INTO ACTION. WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING ON THE FRONT LINE OF BRINGING SPORTS BACK TO AMERICA?
This was something that was brought up numerous times prior to the start of the tournament. We felt like it was an amazing opportunity. But knowing we would be the only sports on TV at the time and the first to bring basketball back, that was something special to all of us.
YOU’VE BEEN A PART OF THE SIDELINE CANCER TEAM FOR A LONG TIME. WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ORGANIZATION, AND HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
Yes, I’ve been a part of Sideline Cancer TBT from the very beginning. I originally got involved as a player who was asked to play in the first-ever TBT. Seven years ago, I received a call from the team’s general
manager, Billy Clapper. Billy asked if I would be interested in playing in a five-on-five tournament in which the winner would receive $500,000. I said “absolutely.” He proceeded to let me know it was also free to
enter into the tournament. At that moment I became even more excited. Then, he follows up by saying “and when we win, we’re going to donate all of the money to the Griffith Family Foundation!” I was a little taken aback, as just a moment before I was extremely excited about the opportunity to win money. But I ultimately stood up and said, “I’ll surely play for the love of the game and the chance to represent something that
is bigger than basketball.” And I have been a player or the head coach of the team ever since. My relationship with Cathy Griffith (foundation president), Jordan Griffith (son of Cathy and soon-to-be executive director of the foundation), and Billy Clapper is truly like family in every sense of the word.
DOES IT MEAN MORE WHEN YOU ARE ALSO PLAYING FOR A CAUSE LIKE THE SIDELINE CANCER TEAM?
It definitely does, and you can feel it. Our guys all understand what they are playing for, and they relish the opportunity to play for something bigger than themselves. In our team huddles, we constantly repeat the slogans that the Griffith Family Foundation has used to embody their mindset behind the goal to find a cure and beat pancreatic cancer. Our slogans are “Believe Always,” “I Can” and “We Believe.”
TBT WAS THE ONLY LIVE SPORT TELEVISED IN EARLY SUMMER, AND YOUR TEAM REALLY CAPTURED THE HEARTS OF THE PUBLIC FOR A FEW DAYS. WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING UNDER A NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT?
The experience was like nothing else I have ever been a part of. I must have been averaging about five to seven interviews a day, ranging from local sports media to ESPN coverage. The amount of support we received on social media was out of this world! To see we were top trending on Twitter after our win against Overseas Elite … just crazy!
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF COACHING IN A TOURNAMENT LIKE TBT?
The biggest challenge for us was practice time. Half of the teams in TBT meet up for a week or two prior to the tournament to have training camps. They practice and prepare for seven to 14 days so that they
are best positioned to have a chance at the championship. Our Sideline Cancer team did not practice until we arrived in Ohio. We have guys on our team from all around the country. We were scheduled to have three or four practices prior to our first game. However, due to court issues inside the bubble, we only were able to have one full practice. Most of the practice courts had condensation issues and were very slippery inside the hotel bubble. Therefore, we had three practices that all we were able to do was shoot and walk through plays on slippery courts. We ran up and down and played five-on-five only once prior to our first game.
AT WHAT POINT IN THE TOURNAMENT DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD A SHOT TO WIN IT ALL?
We came into the tournament thinking we had a shot. But once we got past the second round, that’s when it really hits you. The tournament is win or go home, so after you advance a game or two, that’s when you start to think about who’s left in the bracket and you realize that your chances are higher and higher.
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT BEING MIC’D UP DURING GAMES?
I’ve been mic’d up for eight games now that were live on ESPN. I had that opportunity for three games in 2019. So when that moment comes, it is kind of natural for me now. The first game or two of the tournament in
2019 definitely had me a little nervous. But now I embrace the moment! It really is a fun experience.
THE WIN AGAINST OVERSEAS ELITE, WITH A BUZZER-BEATER SHOT, WAS MEMORABLE. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE TOURNAMENT?
My favorite moment is really the whole thing. Coaching these amazing professional players. Being on ESPN. Being the head coach of an organization that truly is like family and is playing for something bigger than basketball. It’s like a storybook that I don’t think I could have imagined in my dreams. But for sure, the game winner against Overseas Elite was special. I think another moment that’s more personal has to do with our team showing a that team mindset is needed to advance time and time again in a tournament like this. In our first game, we were struggling defensively. We also had multiple players were trying to give opinions on how we should fix our defensive
struggles. During a time-out with four or five players all talking at once, our best player and leading scorer, Marcus Keene, shouts, “Guys, listen to coach!” During that moment, everyone stopped, everyone listened, we got on the same page, and we started playing great defense. We gave up 91 points in the first game. Next game we held Team Challenge ALS to 66. Then we held Syracuse Alumni to under 50. Defense was also what kept us in the game against Overseas Elite.
THE BROADCASTERS MENTIONED YOUR COACHING ABILITY NUMEROUS TIMES ON NATIONAL TV. HAS THE TOURNAMENT HAD AN IMPACT ON YOUR COACHING CAREER IN ANY WAY?
It has made me more recognizable in public sometimes. Also, some of the players I train on a regular basis have really started to look up to me even more than they did before. I have received interest from NBA–level executives. Some of that interest has been at that level or at the G League level. But right now, no major changes coming.
WHAT ARE YOUR COACHING GOALS MOVING FORWARD?
Going forward, my main goal is to continue building my business, Crunchtime Hoops LLC. There may also be a Sideline Cancer AAU program based out of Lancaster, Pa., coming soon. I always wanted to coach at
the college or pro level. But once I started my business, that became my main priority. At this time, I’m very grateful to have been put in a position to coach Sideline Cancer TBT. I have coached an underdog team of professional players to many big-time upsets in the past two TBTs. I feel great about that, but there is still one more thing left on the agenda: a Sideline Cancer TBT championship trophy.