Looney honors coach, mentor who pushed him to be great

  • Programming Note: The Game Changer Awards air Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area. Mark Kotsay, Logan Webb, Dusty Baker, Kevon Looney and Brandi Chastain will honor those who helped them fulfill their dreams.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevon Looney was no older than 7 years old and going into third grade when he first met Shelby Parrish, the most influential coach of his life. 

At the time, Looney was in his second year of playing basketball. Parrish had only coached high schoolers, and thought it couldn't be that hard coaching a group of 7 and 8-year-olds. 

"I just remember him always saying, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa' every time," Looney said to NBC Sports Bay Area. "We had kind of a wild team, used to always try and fast-break and he was trying to slow it down and get us back under control. He was always screaming 'Whoa, whoa, whoa!' 

"That was one of his phrases when we were getting a little out of control." 

Growing up in Milwaukee with parents Doug and Victoria Looney, Kevon joined the Running Rebels the summer after second grade, an inner-city program that along with providing basketball teams, also serves as a resource for tutoring, mentoring and more. Becoming a Running Rebel opened the door for a lifelong relationship.

Parrish is always in the stands when Looney and the Warriors play in Milwaukee against the Bucks. He was there when the Warriors selected Looney with the last pick of the first round in the 2015 NBA Draft and he has celebrated three championships with him as well. 

On Thursday, Jan. 26, Looney said thank you to Parrish. For everything. Surrounded by trophies on a night that also included Dusty Baker, Brandi Chastain, Logan Webb and plenty of other big names at Chase Center, Looney honored Parrish at this year's Game Changer awards, which airs Feb. 1 on NBC Sports Bay Area at 9 p.m. PT.

"For me, it's great to watch him play and to say that he deserves all that he's accomplished," Parrish said. "I know the hard work he's went through. To see him get to where his goals and dreams were, it's just an amazing feeling to know that you had a part of that." 

From that first summer in second grade to his last year playing AAU basketball and throughout becoming a five-star prospect at Alexander Hamilton High School, Looney and Parrish were always a pair. Parrish always pushed Looney to dream bigger.

If Looney was thinking about making the varsity team, Parrish was focused on getting him ready for college. If college was the new goal for Looney, Parrish moved his eyes to the NBA. If the NBA was next in sight, Parrish had Looney seeing a future of celebrating championships. 

No matter the day, no matter the weather, no matter the time of day -- Parrish was there to make Looney the best player he could be, all while instilling the same beliefs and work ethic that Doug and Victoria made vital at home. Looney already was receiving in-state scholarship offers from Wisconsin and Marquette as a freshman. 

Rides from Parrish for morning workouts hours before school began served as the groundwork of his success. 

"He taught me how to work and he was there every day," Looney said. "And he didn't have to do that. He wasn't getting paid any extra money for it. He was just there. He would pick me up at six in the morning and we'd go workout before school. After school, we'd go back to the gym and do weights and different things like that. 

"Like I said, he didn't have to do that. He just took his time out and made sure I got better, just because he loved the game and he loved me, so I just appreciate him for that."

By the end of his senior year, Looney was considered one of the great prep stars in Milwaukee history. He dominated scoring, rebounding, passing and swatting away shots with ease. As a senior he was named City Conference Player of the Year for the second time, and also was honored as the state's best player by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association, the Associated Press and Gatorade. 

Looney was so great as a senior, almost averaging a quadruple-double, that he became the second player ever in Milwaukee Public School history to be named a McDonald's All-American. 

His recruitment was largely handled by himself and his parents. With offers from every big-name basketball program in the country, Looney surprised many when he chose UCLA instead of staying close to home. Though Parrish took more of a step back during this period, he was in contact with a handful of schools and had the same message every single time. 

This is someone you want on your team. He'll make you better, your players better and the school better. 

"He's exceedingly coachable, and that's one of the best things about him is his work ethic," Parrish said. "During his recruitment, coaches would ask me about him and about his game and how he played. Basketball came very easy to him once he got in high school. He had grown four or five inches and he just towered above everybody else. 

"But the biggest thing about him was his work ethic and his humility that he treated everybody the same.

What began as a player-coach relationship between an eager and energetic young kid and an adult has turned to something much bigger and meaningful. Looney is very close with his parents, though everyone needs an outside voice to lean on. Parrish has been that for a long, long time and continues to serve that role. Whenever Looney is struggling, he knows he can always call Shelby.

In high school, Parrish served as an advocate against violence and Looney could often be found in his office talking about anything. Looney believes having a strong influence from a coach at an early age is extremely important for numerous reasons. There are so many distractions in life, especially for young athletes making a name for themselves. Looney admits he could have gone down the wrong path many times.That wasn't going to happen under Parrish's watch. 

Now, their talks rarely consist of basketball. Looney is proud of his Milwaukee roots and still goes back as much as he can to run camps and help with the AAU program. His high school jersey was retired in front of his Warriors teammates in December 2018. Looney now is a mentor in his own right, working out and staying in touch with Parrish's two sons. 

"I don't know where I'd be without my man Shell," Looney said. "I appreciate my parents for finding a coach that really fit me. He's more than just a coach. He's a mentor, he's a friend."

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As Looney went through his pregame warmups on Jan. 27 before the Warriors' win over the Toronto Raptors, Parrish, one day after being honored, watched intently from the sidelines. Finding a routine and sticking with it was a value Parrish pushed on Looney from elementary school and it has been a key component to his success. 

Looking back, if Looney, who turns 27 years old on Feb. 6, could tell one thing to his 7-year-old self about Parrish it would be a simple reminder: Listen. 

"This guy isn't crazy," Looney said with a laugh when asked to go back in time. "Listen to what he says. All these workouts and crazy ideas that he has in the gym is going to work and it's going to help you make it to the next level. I had those days in the gym, man. Like, where'd he come up with these workouts? 

"But it ended up paying off for me."

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