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Eleah Parker, fresh off rookie-of-the-year season, is looking to lead Penn women’s basketball this year | Season preview

The sophomore will have to take more of a leadership role, after three team leaders graduated.

Eleah Parker of the Penn women's basketball team for John Smallwood's college basketball season preview player profiles Monday, October 15, 2018. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Eleah Parker of the Penn women's basketball team for John Smallwood's college basketball season preview player profiles Monday, October 15, 2018. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff PhotographerRead moreSTEVEN M. FALK

It was not a classic case of "freshmanitis."

Still, the anxiety Eleah Parker experienced during her first few months on the University of Pennsylvania campus is something most college freshmen go through when they are living on their own for the first time, dealing with an increased academic workload, and developing critical time-management skills.

Add in the fact, though, that Parker was also a highly regarded basketball player, and it is easy to understand how things could get a bit overwhelming.

"I remember my first semester was going fine and then all of a sudden it hit," said Parker, who is from Charlotte, N.C. "I was homesick. School work was picking up. The season was coming up, so we were practicing often.

"I think there was a time where I was like, 'Oh my gosh, college is really hitting me.' "

More in this series: Eric Paschall's job is to help things stay the same at Villanova | La Salle's Jeryn Reese looks to regain scoring touch in senior season | Lamarr Kimble is back leaner and ready to lead St. Joe's

Cheryl Murray-Parker and Dalton Parker did not raise their daughter to back away from adversity. Had Eleah been that type of child, she never would have made into an Ivy League school in the first place, and wouldn't have become Ivy League rookie of the year.

"I got over that hump toward the end of the first semester," she said. "I was like, I have to get a grasp of this. I can handle my school work, manage basketball, deal with self-care, and make sure I'm happy and healthy."

On the court, Parker was also ready to handle the jump from Northside Christian Academy to the Division I competition of the Ivy League.

A three-time first-team all-state selection and valedictorian of her senior class, the 6-foot-4 center spurned interest from Atlantic Coast Conference teams and other bigger programs to come to Penn.

"My parents always had me focused on academics," said Parker, who is enrolled in the School of Arts and Sciences. "They'd tell me that someday the ball is going to stop dribbling so you have to be ready.

"I had a lot of offers, but once I decided I want to go Ivy League, my choice became really clear. I committed the day after I visited Penn."

Ranked by ESPN as the 13th-best high school center in 2017, Parker was stepping into a void left by the graduation of center Sydney Stipanovich, an Ivy League player of the year and three-time defensive player of the year.

Parker did not disappoint: During the season, she was a two-time Ivy League and Big 5 player of the week, eight-time Ivy League rookie of the week, and two-time USBWA national freshman of the week.

She started all 31 games and finished second on the team in scoring (11.5 ppg) and rebounding  (7.9 rpg). In addition to being a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, Parker was second-team All-Ivy and second-team All-Big 5.

"When I came in, I expected I would play," said Parker, who ranked fifth nationally for freshmen in blocked shots per game (2.0). "I knew I would be successful doing whatever I was asked to do just by playing my game.

"Then I started developing with the rest of the team and bonding with my teammates. I think that really allowed me to go to a next level. The accolades I got were really team accolades."

Parker said she is ready to expand her game and role with the Quakers.

She has worked to improve her perimeter game and knows that, with three team leaders having graduated, she has to play more of a leadership role.

"We've worked on this as a team, and I've talked to the coaches about this," Parker said. "I think having confidence in myself and knowing my team has confidence in me will enable me to do that. I just have to believe in myself and put myself out there."