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PARKER CAN ATTEND CLASS AT MESA CC

It's now up to Richie Parker whether he wants to attend Mesa Community College this year. Whether he plays for the Thunderbirds is another matter.

Officials at the junior college say the former New York prep star who pleaded guilty to sexual assault is free to attend school but runs the risk of not being allowed to play basketball.Parker met for about an hour Saturday with Mesa athletic director Allen Benedict, who said a campus committee will determine when and if the 6-foot-5 guard-forward will be allowed to join the team.

Parker didn't register Saturday, the final day of open enrollment. Late registration continues through Friday.

The 18-year-old Parker declined all interview requests and said he will discuss his options with his New York lawyer before making a decision.

"The ball's in Richie's hands," Benedict said. "We promised him nothing other than he can be a student."

Parker, touted as one of the nation's top 30 recruits, has been rejected by at least three universities after pleading guilty in January to assaulting a Manhattan Center High classmate in January 1994. Parker and a classmate lured a freshman girl into a basement stairwell at the school and forced her to perform a sex act.

He received five years probation in a plea bargain. Parker apologized to the girl in mid-June and, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed against him by the victim, she will receive a portion of Parker's income if he plays in the NBA.

Parker had a scholarship rescinded by Seton Hall after his guilty plea and Utah and George Washington later backed off plans to recruit him.

In previous cases, word of Parker's recruiting prompted an outpouring of criticism from the media, alumni and students that ended his hopes of a scholarship at a Division I school.

"When you're saying you can participate, you're sending the message: I want to win.' That's the wrong message," said Mesa football coach David Rice.