De’Sean Parsons grew up in different homes.
He slept where he could. A couch here, a love seat there. He treasured every meal.
Not knowing his father and lacking a strong relationship with his mother, Parsons shuttled between Del Paso Heights and San Francisco, staying with relatives and friends of his family.
While he attended Grant High School, his life stabilized thanks to the sanctuary of basketball, the guidance of father figures Bobby Jackson and Deonard Wilson, and the nurturing care of his aunt Bernadette Parsons.
Parsons mentioned all of them and others within his circle of trust recently when he signed a letter of intent with Portland State. In a challenging life, he suddenly reaped a full athletic scholarship.
Parsons promised this isn’t the end of the journey, just the beginning.
Two years at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, far from the chaos and clutter of the city, mellowed Parsons. During this period, the lanky 6-foot-7 guard was in regular contact with Jackson, a former Kings star and Parsons’ one-time AAU summer coach. Parsons also chatted often with Wilson, his Grant coach. Each talk and text was encouragement to complement his motivation.
“Going out of state, doing this, it changed me a lot,” Parsons said. “I matured a lot, which was good and needed. My support system told me it was best if I got away. They were right.”
Parsons dreamed of a different path during his prep career, when he was a Bee All-Metro player known to score inside and sprawl for a loose ball, never mind that it was already out of bounds.
“I didn’t have good enough grades at Grant to go to a four-year college,” Parsons said. “When I found out I couldn’t go Division I with a scholarship, it hit me hard, and it was all on me. It was another obstacle, but I overcame it. I’ve learned that basketball is fun, but it isn’t going to last my whole life. It’s only part of my life.”
Parsons said he is forever indebted to his aunt, Bernadette, who drives a Muni bus in San Francisco.
“She’s my biggest supporter, my backbone, and a big reason I am so proud to sign,” Parsons said. “Growing up was hard. Living in different areas and homes was hard, and it’s even harder without a father or a mom, who I see a lot more now. My auntie commuted a lot from Sacramento to San Francisco to be with me, to help.”
Jackson and Parsons grew close. Jackson saw a lot of himself in Parsons, a young man who, as Jackson said, “plays just like me. He knows only one way to play – hard.”
Jackson said Parsons has attacked challenges in his life much the same way he attacks a game. Jackson was also a product of the community college system, going from Salisbury High in North Carolina to Western Nebraska Community College to Minnesota.
“He’s had so many ups and downs,” Jackson said of Parsons. “He needed to get away from Sacramento, get away from some of that foolish stuff, see how the real world works. Being in Sacramento was going to handicap him, hanging out with the wrong people. It’s good to leave sometimes, and he found good perspective.”
Parsons said of Jackson, “I didn’t have a father in my life, but Bobby and coach Wilson were father figures. They watched over me like a son. I appreciate them so much.”
Wilson and Jackson said they appreciate Parsons’ work ethic.
“Man, he plays so hard,” Jackson said. “You don’t find a lot of kids who play like that. He still has things to work on. He needs to clean up his ballhandling a little and work on his jump shot, but at his height and with how hard he plays, he can do things.”
Parsons competed in the Sacramento Professional Development League last month, competing against his peers and professionals. He said he wants to graduate from Portland State in business finance, and he’ll ride basketball as far as possible, collecting shoes along the way.
“I collect sneakers,” Parsons said with a laugh. “That’s my hobby. I have about 50 pairs. My dream is to one day walk into a closet full of shoes.
“I have bigger goals, of course. Some people don’t make it out of Grant. They stop trying. I can be one who did something, and I can go back the Heights, where people know me, and where they’ll know I turned out to be a success. That’s my drive.”