UAA Athletics

From missionary work to football to basketball, UAA's Parrish is happy with his journey

When Travis Parrish checked in with his coach prior to his freshman season as a Division I college football player, Utah State coach Gary Andersen took one look at him and laughed.

That's the short version of why Parrish became a Division II basketball player at UAA.

An all-state football player and basketball player for Bountiful High School in Utah, as a senior Parrish accepted a scholarship offer to play football at Utah State. He was listed as a 6-foot-3, 195-pound linebacker.

After he graduated, Parrish left Utah for a two-year Mormon mission in Malaysia. When he came back home, he weighed 165 pounds.

"I went and saw coach Andersen and he just kind of laughed at me and said, 'OK, start eating.' ''

Parrish did what he was told. He spent his first season as a redshirt, bulking up. By the next season he was in the 240-pound range, but he was playing behind another redshirt freshman, Kyler Fackrell, who went on to play for the Green Bay Packers.

Parrish grew restless. He didn't like being as heavy as his coaches wanted him, and he missed basketball.


"Luckily," Parrish said, "my dad's a coach and I asked him — 'Hey, honestly, what do you think? I haven't played basketball in a long time, do you think if I sent my film out and talked to coaches I could play again?' ''

His dad encouraged him to go for it, and one of the coaches Parrish contacted was UAA's Rusty Osborne, who had previously recruited players from Salt Lake Community College when Norm Parrish was the coach there.

Osborne liked what he saw and heard about the younger Parrish and made him an offer — even though it had been four years since Parrish had played basketball.

"We knew he could be a contributor to the program because of his background, his toughness," Osborne said. "He'd do what we asked of him."

Parrish is one of seven seniors who will be honored Saturday when the Seawolves play their final regular-season home game at the Alaska Airlines Center.

At 26, he is the oldest player on the team — growing up he used to play against assistant coach Scott Friel.

Parrish is a role player who brings toughness, energy and smarts to the game. You can almost bank on him committing a foul soon after checking in — mostly because as a guy who usually plays forward, size remains an issue for him.

"I am undersized for what I am playing, and the only way to do it is to be physical and tough all the time," Parrish said. "I've got to beat this guy even if he's four inches taller."

Parrish came to UAA in 2014 with three years of eligibility and what Osborne said was a "pretty big learning curve" due to his extended break from basketball.

One of the chief things he needed to work on was using his right hand — Parrish is a left-hander who played point guard in high school but never much worked on handling the ball with his right hand.

"He really had to work on that," Osborne said. "He had to work on adapting to the speed of the game in college, and on just getting into the rhythm of basketball, which is different from the rhythm of football.

"Learning to make decisions within the framework of the action was a challenge to him too. He made those adjustments and by the end of his first year, he was doing good things for us."

Though he has never put up big numbers — his career highs are 12 points this season and nine rebounds last season — Parrish gets playing time and contributes in almost every game.

He averages 2.1 rebounds and 1.5 points per game — similar to his number in his first two seasons — and he is willing to do whatever his team needs him to do.

"My role since I've been up here is I try to give my best, work hard, try to defend, rebound, take care of the ball," Parrish said. "I try to do the little things. I try to contribute wherever I can. My role is to give my best all the time."

Had he stayed with basketball out of high school, if he hadn't taken a break from organized sports to go on a mission, his role may be different, maybe bigger. But Parrish has no regrets.

He met his wife, Lexie, at Utah State — she was a member of the women's soccer team (he surprised her at one of her games with a marriage proposal).


And he has a lifetime of memories, and ongoing relationships, from his two years in Malaysia.

"I got to work with some people that really turned their life around, and being at least a small part of (that) is really rewarding," Parrish said.

"… We're trying to make people focus on their family. We don't drink alcohol, and I saw some guys who weren't with their family a lot and were drinking a lot. We tried to help them overcome their addiction and focus on their family.

"For them to get baptized, they had to give up some of those things, so seeing some of those changes in the families felt great."

The experienced humbled him.

"In high school I was all-state basketball and football and I thought I was really cool," Parrish said. "I took a little photo album over there, pictures of me playing sports. I'd show people my sports pictures and they didn't care — it wasn't that important to them.

"It put things in perspective and humbled me a lot — I went from this cool high school kid to some guy that can't speak Malaysian. It made me care more about other people than myself. It changed me."

And it turned a linebacker into a lightweight. Parrish said missionaries get 30 minutes a day to exercise, plus one preparation day a week. On those days, he said, he and his missionary partner often would try to find a place to play basketball.


"Other than that," Parrish said, "I rode a bike a lot and ate a lot of rice."

The pounds melted away, only to be added back once he returned home. At Utah State, coaches told him to eat something every hour and provided him with 1,000-calorie protein shakes.

"They tasted like hay, chocolate hay," Parrish said. "Eating became a chore."

Parrish said he likes the weight he's at now — about 210 — and he's happy with the circuitous route he took to UAA. He earned his degree in economics last semester and is working on an MBA.

Parrish said he'll stay at UAA for at least another school year to complete his master's degree, even though he'll soon be done playing the sport that brought him to Anchorage.

"I'm going to miss competing," Parrish said. "I'm going to miss that whole team. I don't think there's anything quite like being a member of a sports team. I'm gonna miss that a lot."

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.