By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — Parker Bland didn’t know why Sean Taylor would be calling him into the coach’s office.
“My nerves immediately perked up,” Bland said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
What Taylor, the former Quincy High School boys basketball coach, had in mind was something unique and rare. Bland, a freshman during the 2013-14 season, was being moved up to the varsity and told he would start in the second game of the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament against Algonquin Jacobs.
“There were butterflies,” Bland said. “It was an indescribable feeling.”
It was unforgettable, too. Bland scored four points and grabbed three rebounds as the Blue Devils earned a 44-41 victory over Jacobs.
“That’s something that you can’t forget,” Bland said. “Having all the support from the seniors at that time, having support from friends, it was so incredible.”
Fast forward to today and Bland is getting prepared to play his final game at home when the Blue Devils play host to Moline on Friday night. Quincy has an opportunity to win the Western Big Six Conference championship outright and extend its home winning streak to 29 consecutive games, two milestones extremely important to Bland and his fellow seniors.
“To know the tradition behind the program, it’s not something you take for granted,” Bland said. “When you sit down and think about it, it’s incredible.”
So is the personal milestone Bland is nearing.
The 6-foot-4 forward heads into the final regular season game with 974 career points and could become the 21st player in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Eighteen of the 20 members of the exclusive club are inducted into the QHS Hall of Fame, and 2010 graduate Zach Forbes isn’t eligible yet.
Bland, who is averaging 15.8 points per game this season, will reach 1,000 points if he hits his average in the next two games.
“It’s mind-blowing to know I’m even in that position,” Bland said. “For that to happen, it would be a miracle. It’s something I’ve thought about since Day 1, but you can’t overthink it. You can’t worry about it. If it comes, you’re blessed.
“I still take a step back and make sure I don’t take anything lightly. You treasure every moment.”
That includes the sweat equity he’s earned.
Bland’s commitment to improving has resulted in developing a complete game. He was 6 of 22 from 3-point range for his career, but this season, he’s made 19 3-pointers and is shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc.
“He’s impacting the game in a variety of ways,” QHS coach Andy Douglas said. “He’s not just going at the basket.”
That’s because Douglas and the coaching pushed him to be a more complete player.
“Coach said going into my junior year that I was going to have to develop a right hand and develop a mid-range jumper,” Bland said. “I worked on that a lot. I started to get into that routine my junior year, but it didn’t hit me how important it was until after my junior year.
“That’s when he got me into the weight room and got me into the gym. He had me focusing on my ball-handling and my perimeter game.”
It wasn’t always easy, but Bland developed the maturity and leadership is takes to impact the game in all facets.
“He brings it in practice, which the kids see every day,” Douglas said. “Coming in every single practice ready to work means so much.”
It was the only way to get better.
“The coaches have allowed me to make mistakes, but those mistakes have improved my game, improved my basketball IQ and improved my decisions on and off the court,” Bland said.
It’s caught the eye of college coaches.
Bland has been in contact with coaches from Quincy University, Hanniba-LaGrange University, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and the University of Sioux Falls and plans to visit those schools once his season ends.
“With his size, his athleticism and his quickness, he has the ability to play at the next level,” Douglas said.
Everything that has happened the last four years will have Bland well prepared for whatever is to come.
“Even now, and you can ask my teammates about this, I get nervous before the big games come up,” Bland said. “But having that experience of having gone through them definitely helps. It allows me to help settle my teammates who don’t have that experience.
“How I come out and how I react is important. How I handle things is important.”