Don Parham has been one of the most entertaining basketball players to watch at Rocky Mountain College this season.
The 6-foot senior point guard from Los Angeles uses his quickness and athleticism to regularly fill the Battlin' Bears' stat sheet with steals, assists and baskets in thrilling fashion.
Rocky fans, who have gotten used to him putting on an exciting show over the past two seasons, might be surprised to know that the player they’ve been watching with all of the flashy frills was just too small to play basketball in high school.
"Out here in this region, they probably would be because most kids that have a lot of ability do play on their high school teams or are stars," Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen said. "He comes from the Los Angeles area, and there are just lots and lots of kids down there."
The 23-year-old Parham, who is leading the Frontier Conference in assists this season and is second in steals, transferred to Rocky in 2011 from Los Angeles Trade Tech, a community college situated near the Staples Center, where the Lakers and Clippers play.
"When I got to high school, I was probably about 5-3," Parham said. "Me and my friends were looking for the coaches and we walked into the gym, saw all the tall basketball players and decided 'we're not going to make the team' so we just went out for football."
Parham, who played football and baseball at Dorsey High School, continued to compete in pickup basketball games, experienced a late growth spurt and eventually landed a spot on Trade Tech's team, two years out of high school.
"People that were putting me down and telling me I'm not going to do this, I just wanted to prove them wrong," Parham said.
Dreikosen is counting on that same sort of determination from Parham this weekend, as the Bears head into their final two regular-season games — beginning tonight at home against nationally ranked Montana State Northern (22-6) — with an eye on securing one of the six berths into the Frontier's postseason tournament.
"When he's playing with a lot of energy, he can impact the game on both ends of the floor," Dreikosen said.
Parham, whose full first name is Doundrekyc, is really about two inches shorter than what he is listed on the roster. He speaks softly, but his game is much louder.
He's definitely been a point of impact in averaging 11.4 points, 4.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game this season for the 16-12 Bears, who are sitting sixth in the Frontier standings.
"He's got really good hand-eye coordination," Dreikosen said. "He's got a lot of gifts. As I've told our players in the past, gifts are given to you by God. Your gift back to God is to use those to the best of your ability."
Parham can attack hard and quick, and as his understanding of game situations continues to grow under Dreikosen’s watch, his big performances this season have ranged from pass-first point guard to unstoppable scorer.
In a recent home win against Carroll College, Parham buried a 3-pointer from the wing, and then seconds later came up with a steal and a go-ahead dunk to the roar of the raucous Rocky crowd.
He forced overtime against Montana Western by calmly dropping in three consecutive free throws with under a second left on the clock. Against Dickinson State, he added to his legend by knocking down the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:13 to play.
"If it wasn't for our fans, I probably wouldn't be playing like this," said Parham. "They give me more energy to play and put out. The football players tell me they want to see a dunk, so I try to get them a dunk.
"I just want to make everyone happy."
That also goes for his teammates. "I really like to pass first," Parham said, "but when I have to score, I score."
He chalked up 24 points against Western this season, 12 assists versus Montana State Billings, 10 rebounds against Lewis-Clark State and seven steals versus the University of Calgary.
Rocky has put the ball into Parham's hands on several occasions this season with time running out and the game on the line.
"In those situations, he has the ability to go out and make a play," Dreikosen said. "Not everything has fallen the way we wanted it to or the way he's wanted it to, but nobody, I believe, wants it to go right worse than he does."
Parham, who made his Rocky debut against MSUB last season with a rare triple-double, does get in trouble occasionally for simply trying to do too much out on the court with a shot or a pass.
"Often Don has heard us say ‘just make the simple play,'" Dreikosen said. “Sometimes his biggest asset can be his biggest nemesis, in the sense he wants to hit a home run a lot of times.
"I've told him a lot of games have been won with singles. You don't have to always go for the home runs."
Parham's fight through challenges as an undersized high-school athlete was fueled, in part, by the motivation and encouragement provided by his older brother, Antonio Chatman, who will be on hand for Senior Night against the University of Great Falls on Saturday.
Chatman, 34, packed in plenty of highlights while playing six seasons in the NFL as a receiver and punt returner for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers.
"When I was younger, I would always pass the ball," Parham recalled. "I would never shoot at first, so all I did was pass. My brother (Antonio) said ‘if you want to play, you need to learn how to score.’”
Parham's game — especially his shooting — started to come together at Trade Tech, where he was a part-time starter, and has continued to grow at Rocky, where he has scored in double-digits in 18 games this season.
"I've seen him improve a lot," Dreikosen said. "That's what you would expect for guys that have come through your program. I'd like to see him finish well.
"That's going to be important for this team."
On what is a weekend to salute the team's six seniors, Parham said he would like to be remembered at Rocky "just as an amazing basketball player that everyone loved to watch.
"They come to the game to see excitement, not watch a boring game," he said. "I try to bring a little something different."