Radford center Artsiom Parakhouski has one goal: to become the first Belarusian to play in the NBA.
It's a lofty goal, no doubt. But when one reviews the road Parakhouski has traveled so far, there is little reason to believe he can't make it. You may not have heard of him yet, but the NBA sure has.
The Toronto Raptors had a scout at Radford's practice on Monday, in fact, as the 6-foot-11, 260-pound senior continues to play his way onto the radar of a draft lacking center prospects. Parakhouski leads the nation in rebounding at 12.9 per game, is second in field goal percentage at 63.2 percent and third in scoring with 24.1 points per game. He had double-doubles at Duke (23 points, 14 rebounds) and Kansas (21, 13) and has scored in double-figures in every game. NBADraft.net projects the senior to go early in the second round, while DraftExpress.com has Parakhouski as the last pick of the first round -- a spot that would make history in his home country.
"That is my goal," Parakhouski said of the NBA (heavily emphasizing the "N" in his Russian accent). "I'm trying to prove that people in my country can be in the NBA if they want to be."
Wanting to reach the NBA and actually having the talent to do so are two different things, of course. His parents were national-level athletes and coach Belarusian national teams (mother Tatsyana is a swim coach and father Nyckolay track and field) and his sister, Yana, is hoping to swim in the 2012 Olympics. Big Art, as he's known at Radford, played soccer until he was 16, but he literally outgrew the game.
Basketball was the next logical step for a thick, 6-8 high schooler, but Parakhouski had never played the game.
"I was terrible," Parakhouski said. "I couldn't dribble. I couldn't shoot. I couldn't do anything with basketball at that moment."
But he developed some skills, and was spotted at the under-20 European Junior Championships in 2005 by Ali Ton, then an assistant at Binghamton. Ton suggested Parakhouski enroll at the College of Southern Idaho, where he could learn both English and basketball. So the Belarusian bid his family farewell and moved to the U.S. without being able to speak any English.
"The first six months were difficult mentally," Parakhouski said. "Culture was different, people was different, education was different. But I'm not a quitter. I told myself I'm going to the United States and I'm not going home no matter what. I faced my struggles and was not going to let the struggles hold me back."
Ton was hired by Brad Greenberg at Radford when it was time for Parakhouski to choose his next stop, so Parakhouski signed early with the school. Greenberg says if Parakhouski had waited until the end of his second season at Southern Idaho, he would have had some high major offers, but Parakhouski has benefited from being a big fish in the Big South.
"He's been able to be a featured guy for us since Day 1," Greenberg said. "He's getting tremendous experience. If he went somewhere else, he may not have been the No. 1 option on offense or played as many minutes."
Parakhouski led Radford to the NCAA tournament last season and faced Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina in the first round. The Tar Heels won easily and Parakhouski was held to 10 points on 3 of 15 shooting. He is hoping to get another crack on the big stage, one he admittedly had never heard of until two years ago. After facing a grueling nonconference schedule that included Duke, Kansas, Louisville and a tough William & Mary team, Radford is 8-6. But the Highlanders are 4-1 in conference play with a huge Big South game at Coastal Carolina (16-2, 6-0) on Thursday.
Parakhouski says his parents are following his career as best they can and he sends tapes of Radford's games back home. Parakhouski hasn't been back to Belarus in more than two years, but it is a sacrifice he knows he has to make.
"He understands he's not a finished player," said Greenberg, who has spent several years in different capacities in the NBA, including general manager of the 76ers. "He wants to play in the NBA. He realizes it doesn't happen overnight. He's just scratching the surface of what he can become. He wants to get better and better."
Detroit came within 0.4 seconds of beating Horizon League power Butler on Saturday, but Gordon Hayward hit a free throw to force overtime and the 24th-ranked Bulldogs prevailed 64-62. The turnaround in Detroit has been impressive. Thanks to a pair of Kelvin Sampson's former Indiana players, the Titans are much improved in coach Ray McCallum's second season. Xavier Keeling and Eli Holman came to Detroit with McCallum, who was on Sampson's staff, and are the Titans' leading scorers. Holman, a 6-10 post player, is shooting over 60 percent, while Keeling is scoring 12.8 points per game. Detroit finished 7-23 each of the last two seasons, but the Titans are 11-6 overall and 4-2 in league play after going 5-31 in the Horizon the last two years.
Western Carolina snapped a string of 13 consecutive losing seasons last year by going 16-15, and with five starters back, the Catamounts were cautiously hoping to be a player in the Southern Conference. The hopes have proven to be legit. College of Charleston has stolen the headlines in the league with its upset of North Carolina and 4-0 start in the league, but the Catamounts can claim their own stunner over a power program: Western won at Louisville 91-83 in December and is 12-3 overall. Western dropped a road game at Georgia Southern this weekend to fall to 2-1 in the league, but veteran coach Larry Hunter should have the Catamounts in the SoCon mix as they pursue back-to-back winning seasons.
Northern Colorado, in its fifth season in Division I, has already set a school mark for most wins during that span as the Bears check in with a 15-3 record following Saturday's home win over Idaho State. And despite their string of wins, the game that put the Bears on the national radar this year was an 80-79 loss at Oklahoma. The Bears had possession with a chance to shock the Sooners, but turned it over and came away with a one-point loss. Ex-Jayhawk Tad Boyle is building a program in his first head coaching stop and could be an under-the-radar name should the Bears contend in the Big Sky this season.