When SDSU fans think of an archetypical Aztec, it’s a player with traits of defense, selflessness, hard work behind the scenes, and the desire to win no matter what it takes.
Fans might think of gym rats such as Kawhi Leonard and Jordan Schakel, prideful defenders like Dakari Allen and Skylar Spencer, or Aztecs who put their bodies on the line, such as Tim Shelton and J.J. O’Brien. This offseason, SDSU may have found another archetypical Aztec in Oakland transfer Micah Parrish.
“I think I can do it all,” Parrish told EVT in an exclusive interview. “Honestly, I’m a team player. I love playing defense. If I’m not going on offense, I’m for sure going to have it on the defensive end, no matter what day it is. I work hard. I’m all over plays, rebounding, dunking, threes, passing the ball for an assist.”
Flashback to five months ago, Parrish left Oakland University after two strong seasons. Over 59 games, including 57 starts, he averaged 10.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and shot 35.2% from three in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. But he was looking for a new adventure. Michigan State was interested in the 6’6 lanky wing, but Parrish declined.
News of his decision to join the Aztecs was perplexing at first. At the wing position at the time, the Aztecs returned Matt Bradley, Aguek Arop, Keshad Johnson, and Chad Baker-Mazara. This quartet was expected to handle the bulk of the minutes. Many thought Parrish was potentially a long-term option. But after Baker-Mazara departed, a void at the forward position emerged for Parrish to fill.
There will be a competitive fight with his teammates for minutes, but Parrish did not join the Aztecs, assuming to start. He joined the program expecting to win.
“Every (other team) is probably thinking who’s starting,” Parrish said. “Our group is just thinking about winning and going to the final four and winning an NCAA championship. So, I haven’t really thought too much about whether I’m going to start or not because if I’m gonna start, I’m gonna start. If I’m called off the bench to be a six-man, I’m a six-man. It doesn’t really matter to me as long as we win and I’m able to help the team produce.”
Parrish’s selflessness fits into Coach Brian Dutcher’s system. Past successful Aztec teams have relied on players making sacrifices. In the historic 2020 season, Matt Mitchell came off the bench to start the season. Transfers KJ Feagin and Yanni Wetzell took lesser roles in order for Malachi Flynn to run the show. As the season went on, everyone bought into their roles to create a well-run machine.
Compare the team to a blockbuster film. There can only be a few Academy Awards given out. But in order to win a Best Picture, everyone on the team has to own their character to win on the highest stage.
In order for SDSU to reach their lofty expectations, they require players such as Parrish to take a lesser role for the betterment of the team, even though he averaged over 34 minutes last season.
Joining the Mesa, Parrish has a lot to learn. A new team comes with different habits, teammates, roles, and time zones, in Parrish’s case.
As most former Aztec transfers can attest to, it’s difficult acclimating to SDSU, especially on the defensive end. The rigorous defensive principles placed on the players must be nailed down before the season starts. Newcomers learn quickly how important defense is to the program.
Parrish is at a bigger disadvantage because Oakland played a lot of matchup zone, and there were fewer man-to-man principles compared to SDSU. But he is thankful that in his former system, he was allowed to roam at the top of the defense and pick up full court.
It is obvious why Parrish was given this defensive freedom at Oakland.
He takes immense pride in defense.
“Micah’s got great length, and that always makes for a really good defender,” Dutcher said in Tuesday’s opening press conference. “He makes Matt Bradley’s life hard every day in practice. Matt is big and strong and used to shooting over guards, but Micah has the length to contest a lot of that.”
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Last year, the Aztec’s Achilles heel was facing teams with height at the forward position. Boise State’s starting lineup featured Abu Kigab, Emmanuel Akot, and Tyson Degenhart, who all stand 6’7 or taller. In all three losing matchups, the Aztecs struggled to score and match up against their size. Parrish’s length and physicality will be a defensive counter that Dutcher did not have in his arsenal last season, and he will not be intimidated by a larger defender.
When asked about playing defense and the focus that SDSU puts on that side of the floor, Parrish didn’t even let the question finish before jumping in with, “I love it.”
“I’m really tough on myself on the defensive end because I just love playing defense,” Parrish said. “It’s just fun for me, stopping somebody when the whole team is talking, and we get a stop or three stops in a row, something like that. Slapping the floor, it’s amazing to me; I just love the energy that defense can bring into the game and to your team.”
Hard Work Behind the Scenes
But Parrish is more than a defender. Coach JayDee Luster said that over the summer, in team drills, Parrish had the best three-point shooting percentage on the team.
Over the past seasons, he worked hard to improve his shooting. In his freshman year, he shot 34.9% from three. He was not satisfied with this and went to drastic measures to improve. He changed his shooting form.
“Trying to get my feet down faster, straighten up my shooting hand, and hold the follow through…” Parrish said. “I’m still adjusting and trying to get my shot off faster. It’s just work and continuing to get better; it’s a day-by-day process.”
Parrish admits it took time for his new form to feel comfortable. But after starting his sophomore season cold, he finished conference play shooting a blistering 46.2% from beyond the arc.
Perfecting a jump shot does not happen overnight. But as the Aztec coaches knew when recruiting him, Parrish is a gym rat, and he will do what it takes to hone in on his craft.
Over the summer, Parrish says his workout routine was to take 3,000 shots every day except for Sunday when he took a light day… only taking 1,000 shots in a day.
“He’s shooting the ball at a level we thought he could,” Dutcher said. “That’s what we need; we need someone to step outside and make jump shots.”
Parrish will provide a versatility to this Aztec lineup that will make this year’s team more dangerous offensively. Last year’s team struggled with three-point shooting; outside of Bradley, Adam Seiko was the only reliable shooter. His shooting ability will open the offense and take pressure off of Bradley. At Oakland, he showed he can bring it up in transition, which could increase the tempo.
He’s shown he’s also a great rebounder. With opposing defenses keying in on Jaedon LeDee and Nathan Mensah, Parrish will have room to crash the glass. His size also allows Dutcher to use him in unique lineups. He can play in bigger, more standard lineups at the three position, or SDSU can blitz the floor with him in smaller, up-tempo lineups at the four.
The Archetypical Aztec
Parrish’s focus is on winning and improving himself. He aspires to make it to the next level and believes San Diego State gives him the best opportunity. Through his hard work behind the scenes, the sky is the limit. With his selflessness and desire to win, he has an opportunity to play professionally and be remembered as an archetypical Aztec legend when his career finishes up.
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.