How a small Virginia Beach college built a basketball contender

Take a look down the Bryant & Stratton College women’s basketball bench, and you can see the talent that’s been assembled.

And we’re not even talking about the players.

There’s head coach Cornel Parker, a three-time All-Tidewater selection and Group AAA Co-Player of the Year at Maury High. He later starred at Virginia and helped lead the Cavaliers to the NCAA Tournament three times.

There’s assistant coach Shareese Grant, also a three-time All-Tidewater selection and the 2000 All-Tidewater Player of the Year. At Old Dominion, she was a Kodak honorable mention All-American and was named the Coastal Athletic Association Tournament MVP three times. She helped lead the Monarchs to four NCAA Tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2002, and in 2019 she was inducted into the ODU Hall of Fame.

And there’s special assistant to the head coach Jack Baker. For 41 seasons, the legendary basketball coach led Maury High to 19 district championships and six region titles. He finished with 746 victories, which is third in Virginia High School League history.

Together, along with assistant coaches Randall Johnson and Khala Downing, they have helped lead Bryant & Stratton — a junior college located in Virginia Beach — to a 12-1 record this season. The Bobcats also are No. 24 in this week’s National Junior College Athletic Association Division II rankings.

“We have a good record, but every day is a grind for us to get them better and keep them motivated,” Parker said. “We just don’t want them to be better players, but also better people.”

Coaching wasn’t an option for Parker early on. After college, Parker signed with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent and later played professionally in Turkey, France and Japan.

After his playing career was over, Baker — who coached Parker at Maury — urged him to try coaching.

“I knew how competitive he was, and I knew how hard he worked,” Baker said. “But the biggest thing was his love for the game and his passion for young people, not just on the court, but their entire life.”

Parker served as Baker’s assistant basketball coach and head junior varsity coach for 12 years at Maury.

He got a chance to coach on the college level 10 years ago when then-Bryant & Stratton men’s coach Jermaine Woods asked him to join his staff.

“I was supposed to be with him as an assistant on the men’s side, but then he was like, ‘They’re looking for a women’s coach,'” Parker said about Woods, now the head women’s coach at Coppin State. “I was like, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll try something different.”

When Parker told his wife, Jennifer — a former high school girls basketball coach — about the position, she knew it would a “different challenge” since he had never coached girls. But she also knew he would be successful.

“I think he’s a great coach. So I think any level or gender or whatever he coaches, he’s going to be good at it,” she said. “But I think he’s done great adapting to it. And I think he’s a great coach. He doesn’t do it for the money. But for the relationships.”

The Bobcats didn’t play that first year as Parker used the time to recruit talent. The following year, he led the Bobcats to a 19-8 record.

Since then, the Bobcats have been nationally ranked five times. He’s led them to two Region 10 Conference Championships and been named Region 10 Coach of the Year in the 2018-2019 season when the Bobcats went 25-6 and lost in the Southeast District quarterfinals.

This season, the Bobcats have big dreams of playing in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.

“We haven’t been to the national tournament yet,” said Parker, who has a career record of 172-79. “To get there, you have to win your conference tournament championship to get in. So that’s one of our next goals.”


Parker knows the program’s success hasn’t come on his own.

When Baker retired in 2017, Parker brought him on his staff.

“He has so much knowledge, and that’s where I get my knowledge from,” Parker said. “He’s the guy who got me into coaching. We always need someone to kind of challenge us to make us better, and he makes me better.”

Baker, who helps with scouting, is enjoying it.

“It keeps me around the game, keeps me around young people,” he said. “And Cornel asked me to do it, so I wasn’t going to turn him down.”

This season Parker added Grant to his staff.

“I thought she would be a good addition from the female side and being able to relate, and being younger and having played at Old Dominion,” Parker said. “I want them to take advantage of Shareese’s knowledge. She played at a high level and she knows what it takes.”

Grant was an assistant coach at Princess Anne High under legendary girls coach Darnell Dozier and she coaches with the Boo Williams Summer League.

But when she became a head coach at Maury in 2021, she said something was missing.

“I wanted to learn more,” she said. “When I was coaching in high school, I felt like I wasn’t learning too much.”

Now she gets that chance under Parker and Baker.

“It’s been amazing because even though I played at a high level, I’m learning so much from this coaching staff,” she said. “From being an elite player and now I get a chance learn from these coaches, that’s what I wanted.”

For many of the players, they come to Bryant & Stratton with a chip on their shoulder because they’ve been overlooked coming out of high school. And with the transfer portal now making it even more difficult to be recruited, playing JUCO was an answer to many of their prayers.

“I had a few options but they weren’t really what I was looking for,” said freshman guard Jaelyn Brown. “That’s why I went the JUCO route.”

Brown, who played at Lakeland High in Suffolk, is the team’s leading scorer at 14 point per game.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. I feel like I’ve progressed a lot mentally and physically,” she said. “My team and my coach have helped me a lot.”

For freshman guard Rakyla Jones, a Norview High grad, she just wanted an opportunity.

“To me, it really didn’t matter what division, I’d go anywhere to play,” said Jones, who is the second-leading scorer (12.2 ppg) and leads the team in assists (6.2) and steals (4.1). “When I connected with coach Parker, he got me in the mood to play.”

While many of the players are from Hampton Roads, others come from Northern Virginia, Maryland and Florida, including 6-foot-3 sophomore center Latanya Berry.

She learned about Bryant & Stratton from her uncle, who works at the school.

“Last year I took a break for personal reasons, but this year I came back wanting to win more and wanting to be better and be better for my team,” said Berry who is averaging 10.7 points and leads team in rebounds (9.8) and blocks (3.1)

Sophomore forward Gabrielle Williams came to Bryant & Stratton for a second chance.

“I went to college my first year and didn’t do too well,” said Williams, who is from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “So I wanted to get away from home and see how that went. So, it’s going good so far. We’re winning and we have a special bond and that carries onto the court.”

Parker is excited about the future of the program. He admits it would have been nice to coach at Maury after Baker retired to coach his son, CJ, like his UVA teammate Junior Borough is doing at Norfolk Collegiate with his son.

“That is something I always think about,” he said, “but I am enjoying the opportunity to watch him grow as a basketball player and a person at (Maury) because I am his school counselor.”

But he’s enjoying this moment.

“I do love coaching,” he said. “I officiated on the high school and college level, but coaching is my passion. It’s helping kids and teaching the game, and that’s important to me.”

Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449,