MISSOULA — Cameron Parker came to Montana right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic from Sacred Heart in Connecticut.
His billing? A pass-first point guard who holds the men's single-game NCAA Division I assists record at 24 on Dec. 1, 2019, something he accomplished at Sacred Heart.
But after transferring to Montana, Parker, a native of Beaverton, Oregon who also played prep school basketball in New Hampshire, found a new home with new teammates, and the group worked on their cohesive games together with challenges around every corner during the 2020-21 season.
"All of us here were new with all of the new freshmen and transfers last year, so we were all kind of going through it together," Parker said. "There wasn't really a lot of veterans in the group last year so I'm glad that we at least got to experience it together. I felt like we kind of made the most of it and everyone tried to stay as positive as they could."
Parker averaged 4.7 assists per game last year, and said he grew in other areas like defense, shot selection and limiting turnovers.
This season, in just his second year on the court for the Montana Grizzlies (17-9, 10-5 Big Sky Conference), Parker's passing ability has been on full display as he leads the Big Sky Conference with 5.2 assists per game. His 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio is also a conference best.
That also includes a triple-double Parker achieved back on Dec. 10 against Yellowstone Christian and UM's Dec. 13 win over Southwestern Assemblies of God University American Indian College where Parker dished out a UM and Big Sky record 20 assists.
"I think it's just me playing with good teammates and then them just knowing where to go and them just getting wide open," Parker said. " So I have a lot of people that could score at prep school, in Connecticut and here so I figure why not pass to the people that can score and make my life a little bit easier."
"Every time I see Cam dribbling the ball, I look directly in his eyes and I'm on the opposite side, because when my defender turns his head, I'm like, 'Cam, you know what time it is,'" sophomore guard Robby Beasley III added. "He draws the defense. He's a threat going to his left hand. He gets a couple and-1's a game and they got to respect him and that's good for me because it'll leave me open."
So what makes a good passer at this level?
"Just try to see where people like catching the ball and going up to shoot so I kind of look where I should pass it in their pocket to make it easier for them," Parker said. "When two people come (defend) on me, it's easy for me to pass it to the next guy. Like a lot of people, either they're in the paint and they try to go up with a shot at that point but if you already have another defender on you, I think just knowing the recognition of where the wide-open guy would be makes it really easy."
While his teammates love it, their advice to Parker? Shoot it more.
But it's that selflessness that defines Parker's career as the senior leads the conference in assists, and does so coming off of the bench as UM's sixth man. He's also averaging nine points and 3.1 rebounds per game in 23.7 minutes per game.
"Offense off the bench is important just like defense off the bench," UM head coach Travis DeCuire said. "His ability to come in and create for others and finish around the rim and create for himself is huge for us because typically when you go to the sixth or seventh man, you probably need a punch because you're taking someone out that scores and so he's been able to provide us some balance in that regard."
"I kind of just dissect what they're doing in the first four minutes or however many minutes it takes me to get in so I like it because the game is kind of flowing a little bit," Parker said. "And I'm in really good shape so I feel like when I come in I kind of have that little boost and kind of get the team going a little bit more so we get out and run more."