Royce Parham has been a pain for opponents to contain the past few seasons, but it has been the North Hills star who has been battling pain in recent weeks.
Parham bruised his left knee Dec. 16 in a win against Seneca Valley. The injury forced him to miss three games, and the 6-foot-7 junior forward with major college offers had practiced only twice in the 17 days leading up to his return Tuesday versus Mars.
Against Mars (6-2, 0-1), Parham was out of this world. He scored 32 points, including 28 in the first half, and grabbed 12 rebounds to help North Hills (7-2, 1-0) roll past the visiting Planets, 75-42, in a battle of two of the top teams in WPIAL Class 5A. It was the Section 4 opener for both teams.
Oh yeah, Parham did it while still being a ways away from being back to full strength. Afterward, he proclaimed himself to be just 70%. Producing those numbers despite not being 100% … impressive to say the least.
“It was a good first game back,” North Hills coach Buzz Gabos said. “And we needed it. He’s a difference maker.”
It was a gutsy performance from Parham, who wore a black sleeve on his left knee. He appeared to grimace from time to time as he ran the floor and at times walked a little gingerly on that leg. But for Parham, there was little doubt he would play in this one. He was limited to just eight points in a three-point win against Mars last season.
“I played terribly in that game,” said Parham, who had taken an unofficial visit to Xavier over the weekend. “This was the first section game, a home game, and I just showed what I can do.”
What Parham showed was a toolbelt full of tools that are rare, particularly for someone who stands 6-7 and is only 16 years old. Parham scored inside and out. He threw down a big dunk early in the second quarter, showed off his soft touch around the basket, and even knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, one of them a step-back 3. That outside shooting is one of the facets of Parham’s game he said he has worked on considerably since the summer months.
“I’ve been handling the ball more. Just dribbling and shooting whenever I can,” said Parham, who is averaging 25 points a game, up from 20.8 his sophomore season.
Parham was very efficient against Mars, going 13 of 20 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line. North Hills was tremendous shooting the ball overall, finishing 63% from the field (29 of 46). Eric James, a promising freshman, came off of the bench to score 11 points. Juniors Logan Johnson and Jake Pollaro added nine points apiece.
“That’s a statement game for us,” said Parham, whose team travels to Moon Friday for a section contest.
Coming back from the injury, Parham said he was “slow out of the gate” and Gabos said he looked fatigued in the first half. But unless you paid extremely close attention, you likely wouldn’t have known it. If there was rust, it must have been scraped away in pregame warm-ups because Parham was exceptional over the first two quarters, going 11 of 15 from the field on his way to 28 quick points. Mars trailed only 17-15 with just under two minutes left in the first quarter before North Hills ended the half on a 29-7 run to take a 46-22 halftime lead.
“In the first half, I felt like I couldn’t miss,” Parham said.
Gabos spoke about the concerns surrounding Parham’s conditioning level he had entering the game.
“I can’t speak to the pain, but I can speak to the conditioning,” he said. “He really did nothing for two weeks. He was not allowed to do anything. In fact, the first time he did anything with us was Friday. Friday he practiced a little bit. Nothing full speed. And then he didn’t practice again until [Monday] because he was in Cincinnati for the Xavier trip. We didn’t have him. He practiced two times in 17 days. We knew the conditioning would be a concern.”
Xavier is among the schools trying to land Parham. Ranked by Rivals as the No. 63 player in the junior class nationally, Parham has taken official visits to Penn State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, and said he plans on taking one to Marquette in February. He said he also has taken unofficial visits to Pitt, Maryland and Xavier. A commitment likely won’t come until July, Parham said. Parham’s mom, Kim (Calhoun) Parham, was a standout player at Penn State and still holds the program record for blocked shots in a career.
Gabos said Parham has taken on more of a leadership role after North Hills graduated its other four starters from last season’s team that went 26-2 and reached the WPIAL Class 6A championship. Parham isn’t a very vocal kid. Instead, he leads by example. And it’s hard to imagine setting a much better example for his teammates.
“He shows up every night and performs,” Gabos said. “Not only with just the points, but with the rebounds and blocking the shots and moving the basketball and making good decisions. I think his play lends itself to, ‘Hey, everyone needs to pick up their game because of how he is playing.’”
Parham appeared to be at the top of his game Tuesday despite working his way back from the knee injury. Parham is back, and that’s going to be a problem for North Hills’ opponents the rest of the season.
Afterward, there was no grimacing, only a smile.
Said Parham, “I’m in a little pain now, but I’ll be fine.”