Radford junior center Artsiom Parakhouski is going to spend the latter part of the afternoon on Thursday bodying with former National POY Tyler Hansbrough in the NCAA Tournament. Think a Radford upset would be shocking? (It would.) Parakhouski's mere presence on the court might be even more shocking.
The NCAA Tournament wasn't anything Parakhouski dreamed of growing up in Minsk, Belarus. He didn't even know what an NCAA Tournament was until three years ago. A soccer fan, his focus was UEFA and World Cups.
The only reason Parakhouski ultimately exchanged his European cleats for American basketball sneakers was because he had outgrown his first love. There just aren't that many 6-foot-11, 260-pound strikers running around a pitch. "Art," as he is better known, was made for basketball, and he came to realize that.
At 16, he began bouncing a ball. Now at 21, he's ranked ninth in the country in rebounding (11.2) and helped Radford win the Big South and secure a No. 16 seed in the "thing he didn't know about a few years ago."
In a few years, you could be mispronouncing his name in the NBA.
"I've said to a number of people I think he's just scratching the surface," said Radford coach Brad Greenberg, who spent seven years with the Portland Trail Blazers in player personnel. "He's just been playing for five years. He has the potential to one day play in the NBA. I believe that. He's got some developing to do, but he's got a chance for sure."
Parakhouski's route to Radford, Va. began when he was spotted at the Junior European Championships by Ali Ton, who is now a Radford assistant (but then was at Binghamton). Ton recommended Parakhouski attend a junior college to hone his game along with English. Parakhouski didn't speak a lick of it then.
Southern Idaho Community College, a junior college, was his initial U.S. destination. For the first year, he struggled off and on the court. Learning English—he only took language course for the first year—was the most difficult part.
"It was hard for me," said Parakhouski, whose mother and father coach Belarus national team sports. "The first five-to-six months I couldn't speak at all. I couldn't understand anyone around me. I was basically in a jungle with nobody."
By the time he arrived to Radford, his game and his English had progressed. Still, Greenberg has to remember to slow down when he's talking to his star big man.
"I'm a New Yorker talking fast," Greenberg said. "Here's a guy from Minsk, Belarus. He probably doesn't understand half the things I'm telling him to do."
If it's been to rebound and score, he's understood. He had 26 points and 18 rebounds in the conference title game. He had 39 and 19 in the regular-season finale. He had 15 and 16 against Wake Forest; he had 16 and 12 against Virginia.
With his big games and likeable personality, Parakhouski has become a fan favorite. Students now wave a Belarus flag in the stands at home games.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "People start to recognize you in the street and in stores. It's an amazing feeling what we did. People now realize basketball is real good in Radford. In two years of playing basketball, I ended up in the United States and now I'm going to the NCAA Tournament. There have been great moments in my life when I decided to play basketball. It's crazy the things happening to me."