Past Imperfect: Parrish Casebier Was All WrongPosted by JWeill on February 9th, 2012
Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the forgotten rise and fall of Evansville’s Parrish Casebier.
Things were never quite right with Parrish Casebier. Born in Owensboro, Kentucky to unmarried black parents, he was adopted at age two by a white family and brought across the Ohio River to live in tiny Rockport, Indiana, where he spent his youth struggling with being different. His younger sister was later adopted by the same family, and together they endured the taunts and bitter looks that came from neighbors, other kids and even some family.
Though he became a basketball standout at South Spencer High School, where he was the state’s second-leading scorer as a senior, even his own coach didn’t always like him. And at 6’3”, stocky, with short arms and little lift, Casebier was built all wrong for big-time college basketball. He was a forward with a guard’s size and a guard with a forward’s handle. In the world of Indiana high school basketball, Casebier’s muscle and will made him a star. But college coaches were mostly unimpressed.
Though Casebier could fill up the net, once scoring 49 points in a game two times in a mere two weeks, there was just something off. He talked back to coaches and got in fights almost daily. He skipped classes and all but dared the school to take away the one thing that made Casebier not just different but better. While further upstate Indiana-bound legend Damon Bailey was wrapping up his storybook prep career before heading off to play for Bob Knight at Indiana, Casebier was trying to earn a place on the state all-star roster or working out for mid-major college coaches.
Some of that lack of interest was due to Casebier’s size and lack of athleticism, but some of it, too, was an unspoken reputation for being a difficult kid, a kid with issues. But college coaches, especially at the lower levels, still take talent, even troubled talent, and Casebier clearly was one. So he picked the school that had first offered him a scholarship, the University of Evansville, over Western Kentucky and Indiana State. Schools like Evansville live off of under-recruited kids who don’t fit the profile that major colleges have for what a player is ‘supposed to be.’ And 6’3” power forwards are not supposed to be successful at the college level. The coach of the Purple Aces, Jim Crews, had been a longtime Knight assistant and he knew he was getting in Casebier a volume scorer who he would have to manage off the court. And for much of the time Casebier played in Evansville, things went fine, on the court.
Being different was something Casebier had adapted to, even if he hadn’t always done it willingly. Hardly an athletic marvel, Casebier instead relied on craftiness and shot fakes, often pumping three or even four times before shooting. The result was a school record for free throws attempted. There was some precedent for a game like Casebier’s. With his build, he offered a similar skill set to that of NBA star Charles Barkley, who was a capable but uncommon shooter from distance, and whose bulk belied his quickness and grit. But Casebier lacked Barkley’s otherworldly athleticism. And also his sense of self.
“He causes a lot of matchup problems,” Loyola of Chicago head coach Will Rey once said, “because he posts up. He scores on putbacks. He can shoot threes.”
As a freshman, Casebier averaged 15 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, not bad for an introduction to college ball, even in an off-the-radar conference nationally. The team was mediocre, but young, and the future looked bright indeed.
But before his sophomore campaign, the other side of Parrish Casebier also began to show itself. Before the season began, Casebier was one of several Evansville students caught in a textbook-selling scam and the soon-to-be basketball star was forced to sit out the first five games of the season. It was a trend of on-court/off-court swings that would manifest itself multiple times over the years, as was his generally dismissive response to being caught. It was, he told everyone, no big deal. They had singled him out because of his status.Still, once eligible, Casebier came to play. The Purple Aces – sporting their distinctive and memorable sleeved uniforms – became the league’s best team. With Casebier pouring in 25 points a night and aided by mammoth Sasha Hupmann, a 7’1”, 250-pound center, Evansville finished the season in first place in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Casebier was the league’s Player of the Year. His most memorable game was lighting Notre Dame up for 41 points – 31 in the first half alone – and effectively ending the Fighting Irish’s hopes for an NCAA at-large bid. Don’t recruit me, and look what happens. Evansville reached the NCAA tournament, but bowed out to UTEP in the first round.
All that success may not have made Casebier a household name nationally, but it made him a BMOC in small-town Evansville. It was rare to see the stout honorable mention All-America out without an attractive companion at an off-campus party. The kid who didn’t belong in Rockport had no problems finding attention – even love – at the city up the road. All he had to do was keep scoring, keep shooting, keep head-faking and hitting free throws. And that he did. All he had to do was to stay out of trouble, to stay within bounds. That, he did not do.
Despite facing double and triple teams at times and battling injuries, Casebier managed a strong junior season, scoring over 20 points a game for a 22-win Purple Aces team. He would finish the year already as the schools’ fifth all-time scorer. But, again, it was Casebier’s reckless side that dominated. On March 7, the star forward was arrested by Evansville police for underage drinking and was ultimately ordered to perform community service and pay a small fee. Casebier blew it off instead.
Casebier’s final game at Evansville would not reflect his prior on-court dominance. Future NBA guard Bob Sura, as athletic as Casebier was not, shackled Casebier into a an uncharacteristic seven-point, 2-for-10 shooting night in an 82-70 loss. After the defeat, Casebier, convinced that he had nothing more to gain from college ball, surprised everyone, including his family, and decided to skip his senior year. Maybe it was those two injuries that had curtailed his freshman and junior years that played a role. Maybe it was his off-court troubles. Maybe it was ego. Whatever his reasons, Casebier entered the 1993 NBA Draft as an early-entry candidate.
Casebier had proven college coaches wrong about his effectiveness, but he still had a ways to go to convince pro scouts. He attended the Chicago Pre-Draft Camp, but remained on the fringes heading into draft night. No observers were surprised when he went unselected. That summer, as a free agent, Casebier was benchwarming at Philadelphia 76ers camp, trying to convince the NBA his small-town game could have big-time potential, and that he would once again prove everyone else wrong.
“I know I’m going to get there,” he told a Philadelphia paper. “A year or two down the road, there’s going to be people who wished they drafted me, because I’m going to be in this league. I believe that.”
But it wasn’t to be. He was dropped by the Sixers and never caught on with any other teams, who feared his lack of size and explosiveness. Eventually, he found overseas basketball options. Then, in September, Casebier was back in Evansville outside a nightclub called Tinker’s Lounge when he was approached by the police. According to the police report, Casebier panicked and stuffed something inside his jacket. Fearing he might have a weapon, officers searched him and found marijuana. Adding to his woes, Casebier had never attended the community service required by his prior alcohol arrest. He just never showed up. Then, when ordered to appear for his marijuana arrest, he skipped court again, claiming he was overseas playing basketball. It was as if by refusing to acknowledge things, they would somehow go away, the way they had at South Spencer, back when he may have been different, but he was also better.
But the Casebier that had skirted trouble was no longer a basketball star who could be given another chances. The courts don’t care whether you’re good at basketball or not, certainly not if your name is only Parrish Casebier. A star since his teens, for the first time Casebier was not going to be a big deal. Casebier returned to his team in Argentina for a while. He had to get away. In October, Casebier returned to Evansville. He was bored. Someone invited him to a party on North Lafayette Avenue. Nothing else to do but watch movies, so Casebier decided to go. It would, like so many crucial moments in his life, be the wrong choice.
According to state prosecutors, Casebier and friends were drinking and playing cards. A young woman passed out in a back bedroom on a bed where another woman was already sleeping. Details of what transpired afterward are the worst kind of he-said, she-said, all of them pointing to terrible decisions being made. Casebier never admitted to raping the young woman, who was only 15 and claimed to be unconscious and have no memory of the assault. Casebier’s lawyer argued that it was in part his client’s status as a former Purple Aces basketball star that contributed to the incident.
“Parrish Casebier was a basketball player. Along with that came some notoriety and women who wanted to have sex with him,” attorney David Lamont said in court.
The jury was unconvinced. After just five hours it found the former basketball star, again in absentia, guilty of rape and sexual misconduct with a minor. The judge sentenced him to eight years in prison on a rape conviction. At the sentencing, the judge had harsh words for the former local celebrity.
“You were very popular,” Circuit Judge Richard Young said. “You had a future here. You were the toast of the town. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone take such a hard turn.”
The black kid who never felt comfortable in his white family, the out of position player who never got as much credit for what he could do as what he couldn’t, the reckless man who never saw the consequences of his actions was now going to pay a price for not fitting in, for not seeing the bigger picture. Casebier tried to find ways out. He contacted Athletes In Action, a Christian basketball charity, and asked to be released early to play for their team. They demurred. He was released on good behavior before his eight years were up.
A decade later, now 33 years old, heavier and humbled, Casebier tried to get back to basics, trying out and landing a spot with the ABA’s Lincoln (Neb.) Thunder. The skills that had once made him a darling of a Midwest mid-major now made him a minor league basketball vagabond. Still, it was something. It was basketball. It was where he fit in, maybe the only place he had ever fit in.
But questions abound: What would have happened had the Evansville star returned for his senior season? What if Casebier had never gone to that party? What if he’d never played basketball at all? What if he’d been adopted by someone else somewhere else, or not adopted at all? Would things have been better or worse had he never been Parrish Casebier? But there are no answers to questions like these.
The trail of Parrish Casebier gets cold not long after those days with the Thunder. There appears to be no glory road, no redemption story. His name shows up occasionally in police reports, an associate with people making more bad decisions. For Casebier, whose road has already had too many twists and wrong turns, maybe the forgotten road was best. Maybe the key to making his life stop being not quite right was for him to stop making things go wrong.
UPDATE – 2/23/12
Casebier was sentenced on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Casebier and two accomplices were caught trying to kidnap a person at an Iowa motel in order to further a prostitution ring.