Keyira Parkes attempting a layup. PHOTO BY MARTIN BAZYL, COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

Being a university student isn’t easy. Students have to grind it out during the year for assignments, quizzes, midterms and the most dreadful of them all: final exams. The workload is already hectic enough for students, but imagine trying to add sports to the stack, another massive time commitment. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to handle the busy schedules of varsity athletes. University of Toronto Varsity Blues basketball guard Keyira Parkes is one of those brave few willing to sacrifice precious time to play a sport they love.

Growing up, Parkes was avidly involved with sports. She started playing sports when she was just seven years old. Her first love was, surprisingly, soccer, not basketball. “[I played] soccer, but not for a rep team or anything,” says Parkes. “[I played] mostly in school. I actually wanted to play soccer before basketball. It was my favourite sport.”

Parkes already found success on and off the court before joining the Blues program. Graduating with honours from the International Baccalaureate program at St. John Paul II CSS, she was also MVP of her basketball team. She won another MVP award in a basketball tournament outside of high school. Parkes is currently pursuing a double major in Criminology and English.

Now a prolific scorer on the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team, it’s no surprise the player from whom she takes inspiration. “Growing up, the most influential basketball player to me would have to be Allen Iverson. He was one of my idols growing up,” says Parkes. Like Iverson, Parkes is quick and can slash her way to the rim. She is a very impressive scorer despite her relatively small stature. Iverson is listed at just six feet, while Parkes is 5’1″ tall.

“I’d have to say my strengths as a player is my shooting ability,” notes Parkes. This season, Parkes is leading the team in points with 16.8 points per game on an efficient 46.6 field-goal percentage. She also leads the team in three-point percentage, with a staggering 45.8 mark. “I really take pride in being a great shooter,” she adds, while also emphasizing the importance she places on creating opportunities for her teammates.

Most athletes generally have some sort of weakness. LeBron James, for example, has been a below average free-throw shooter for his entire career. Parkes, however, claims that there is no true physical weakness to a player. In her mind, mental weakness is what separates good players from great players. “I think that when you doubt yourself, that’s the only weakness you can possess. I truly believe that when you believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself, you can do anything.”

Parkes notes that her only ‘weakness’ would be when she doubts herself. “I don’t doubt myself often though,” she adds.

Despite being a talented basketball player, Parkes doesn’t come from a family with a history of sports. “I’d love to lie and tell you that they do, but they don’t. They never really pursued sports, at least not in a serious way.”

When it comes to balancing school and sports, it can get confusing and challenging. A typical week could begin with a women’s basketball team practice at 6:30 am on Monday morning. These practices often last until 9:00 am. Then, players proceed to the weight room, where they lift for another hour.

Her own personal schedule begins with going back to the gym to practice shooting and ball-handling, since she doesn’t have class until the afternoon. After she’s finished with extra reps, she heads to physiotherapy to focus on physical health and rehabilitation. Her final step of the day is academics, going to classes until roughly 7:00 pm. “Then the next day is just wash, rinse and repeat,” she laughs.

Being a varsity athlete can be difficult, as time management is one of the biggest aspects of maintaining a healthy workload. “It’s pretty tough, especially coming into university as a first-year student,” says Parkes. Having to represent your school as an athlete is similar to a full-time job. The demand of constant workouts, practices, meetings, and weekly games can take a toll on body and mind.

“We tend not to have a social life because it’s just basketball and school back and forth,” she adds. “But it’s a comfortable rhythm, and I think I adjusted to it pretty well.”

Before upcoming games, players participate in shootarounds, drills, and practices in preparation for their next opponent. Players and coaches go through the other team’s offense and focus everyone on their defense.

“For me personally, I usually like to get up shots during the week,” says Parkes. “The day of the game I sleep a lot, just to get my mind and everything calm, because I don’t like being tired before the game.”

At the end of the day, it’s all worth it to Parkes. The opportunity of being a varsity athlete at one of Canada’s most prestigious schools is rewarding for her. “The feeling that I get when [I play basketball] is feeling free, and there’s just not a care in the world.”

After graduation, Parkes plans on going to law school. She prefers Harvard University, or any of the top schools in the US. She also wouldn’t mind staying at U of T to become a lawyer. When it comes to her future in professional basketball, Parkes says that “if it comes, it comes. I would love to play pro if the opportunity came about.”

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