In these days of financial uncertainty, Meade's Brian Parker appearsto be making big savings.
While families reluctantly tighten foodbudgets, Parker, at 6-foot-8, 228 pounds, is happy to tighten his belt.
"I can get almost all of my belts to the last loop," said Parker,18, a senior center on the Mustangs' basketball team. "In fact, my old belts are so big on me that I'd have to make an extra hole to wearone of them. Now, all of my old clothes are too big for me. It's like I need a whole new wardrobe."
That's what happens when you lose 52 pounds in less than a year.
"He was carrying a lot of freight up and down the floor, but he's literally worked his tail off," said Meade coach Butch Young, who begins his 15th season tonight as the Mustangs travel to Westminster. "Most of this has been self-motivation on his part."
When Parker reported to practice a year ago, his waist was 4 inches shy of 4 feet in circumference. He weighed 280 pounds from digesting his favorite delicacies -- ice cream and pizza.
Although he led the 18-6 Mustangs in both rebounding (6.5 per game) and blocks (2.3), he averaged a mere seven points.
"I would hurry my shots, and I didn't have good foot control. I was called for travelinga lot," said Parker, who played in 22 of 24 games and also led the Mustangs in fouls.
"When I'd try to block a shot, I wanted to go over the top of it and just cream it."
As a result, he often flattened the opposing player. Parker admits it was all he could do to get his hefty frame off the ground.
"I could barely get my hand over the rim, and now I can get my hand to the top of the box," said Parker,whose has shortened his waistline to 38 inches.
"Coach used to joke around with me a little bit, but I knew he was kind of serious by the way he would say things," said Parker. "He'd say stuff like, 'TheWashington Bullets could use another big guy crashing the boards. They've already got one.' "
Parker was alluding to the Bullets' JohnWilliams, who ballooned to over 300 pounds, earning him a medical suspension from the team.
Young took Parker aside to educate him about his weight and his overall game.
Soon, Parker was literally on the road to exercise and proper diet, beginning his quest to maximizehis potential by minimizing his consumption.
"I ended up losing three pounds in the first week," said Parker.
Since then, in addition to running, he has added weightlifting and swimming to a daily diet of pickup or organized basketball games.
His summer was spent playing on five basketball teams, including the Lake Waterford, Baltimore Neighborhood and Craig Cromwell leagues. One team, which played under Arundel High coach Gerald Moore in the Amateur Athletic Union, featured several players who now play for Baltimore's Dunbar, the nation's No. 1-ranked high school team.
"Now I feel like I can go out there and do what I've got to do," said Parker. "I've learned how to be stronger on the inside, how to use my body better. I can get up anddown the floor a lot easier. And on my shooting, I think I'm a lot better, like with how coach says 'Fake one to make one.' I do that now."
The changed Parker already has visited Lamar and Marshall universities. Several other Division I schools and junior colleges have taken interest.
"I'm afraid, though, that a lot of people are expecting more out of him than he'll be able to give right away," said Young. "I think he's going to be a fine player, but he's going to have tokeep working at it."
Parker does a lot of his running in his Severn neighborhood, Pioneer City.
"It's kind of a drug-infested area," said Parker, who is tutored in math and biology twice a week by sophomore Teresa Frelichowski. He plans to major in criminal justice in college.
"I know I've got to keep my grades up. My mom is a women's counselor in the correctional facility in Jessup. I want to make her happy and stay on the right track."
Parker has the potential to go down in history as one of the school's best -- along with graduates like senior Denard Montgomery (University of Delaware), junior Corey Wallace (Clemson University) and junior Rob Riddick (Howard University).
"Or," said Young, "he could be all-neighborhood; one of those guys sitting on the corner, talking about how good he could have been.
"He's a really friendly person. Everybody in the school likes him. He's got a taste of (success). I just hope he stays hungry."
Hungry enough, that is, to keep his weight down.