In the summer of 2018, Parker Dortch thought his basketball career was over.
Sitting in his home that summer in Columbus, New Jersey, he reflected upon his options. Dortch had wrapped up his first year of college at Alderson Broaddus University, a Division II institution in West Virginia, a few months earlier. And while the forward said he performed adequately at Alderson Broaddus, he decided not to return.
“I did alright [at Alderson Broaddus]; it just wasn’t the fit for me,” said Dortch. “I was like, ‘I got to get out of here.’”
And so he went home.
“Time started running down,” said Dortch. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I had one tryout for another school, and I guess they didn’t like me, so I was like, ‘Dang, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I guess I’m not going to play basketball [anymore].’”
It was not until Dortch’s former preparatory school coach, coach Al Ragland of Isaiah Christopher Academy, reached out to his former player that he decided to continue his basketball career.
Coach Ragland told Dortch about a junior college he could attend that would be willing to provide him a full scholarship and significant time on the court.
And with that, Dortch could continue his basketball journey — at least for one more year.
“I was like, ‘Alright,’” said Dortch. “I don’t got nothing else to do.”
And so the New Jersey native packed his bags for Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Illinois for his second year of college.Once there, Dortch and the Kaskaskia Blue Devils saw immense success. His team notched a 24-11 overall record, won the NJCAA Division I District 16/Region 24 Championship, and qualified for the NJCAA National Championships, the national competition for junior colleges. There, the team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before Dortch and the Blue Devils’ season came to an end.
After the championships concluded, everything changed for Dortch.
“My phone started ringing for like two weeks straight,” he said. “A whole bunch of schools [were] calling. Stuff started looking up for me.”
Dortch had performed highly in junior college, where he averaged 15.2 points per game to go with 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Division I schools began noticing, and suddenly the rising junior had something he hadn’t experienced before — options.
“At first it was really overwhelming,” he said. “Like I tell people all the time, that was probably one of the most stressful times of my life. Because it’s not like I just get to pick somewhere — this was really my future.”
Ultimately, head LMU men’s basketball coach Mike Dunlap and other members of the basketball staff flew out to try and recruit Dortch to their program.
"I respected that a lot," said Dortch. “They took time out [of] their day to come see me in Illinois. Coach Dunlap and I had a great talk ... Obviously he knows the game of basketball, and he coached in the NBA ... I came out for my visit and liked what I saw, I liked the team, I liked the [assistant] coaches, [and] so I was like, 'Alright, this is the place for me.'"
Now, Dortch enters an entirely new environment. After going from New Jersey to West Virginia to Illinois, the 6-foot-7, 210-pound junior wound up in Los Angeles, California. He has gone from a preparatory school to a Division II institution to a junior college, and now, Dortch will be playing for a Division I program.
“It’s a big adjustment,” said Dortch. “Coming out to L.A. ... was pretty easy for me, because I’m from Central Jersey [and] I used to go to New York and stuff, so I’m used to the city life and fast pace. But basketball-wise, it’s been a lot different. When I came here, coach was telling me that I’m a good player, but I need to be fine-tuned.”
Dortch listed a number of skills that he realized he must improve if he wants to excel at the Division I level, namely jump stops, passing the ball correctly and perfecting his footwork.
“I’ve just been trying to focus on the little things ... [These will] just bump my game up one more level,” he said.
And beyond his personal game, Dortch must learn to integrate into an entirely new group of players — a challenge not only for Dortch, but the entire team, which includes seven new incoming freshmen.
Fortunately, the group has developed off-court chemistry.
“We have a whole bunch of guys that are friendly and interact. We were all getting along by the fourth week that we all [knew] each other. Now that we have [chemistry] off the court easily, we just need to learn to play together on the court and we’re going to be fine.”
This task will be difficult, however, after a pair of season-ending injuries to starting point guard Joe Quintana and starting guard/forward Dameane Douglas in preseason.
“When we first lost Joe, the team took it pretty hard," said Dortch. "Then we moved [Eli Scott] to the [point guard position], and we were like, okay, this is looking good ... When Dameane went down, that was just a huge shock for us. It’s going to be an adjustment, but I think we are going to be able to do it.”
Despite these two huge blows, Dortch is no stranger to difficult situations. After barely getting recruited out of high school, playing an additional year at prep school, and playing at the Division II and junior college level, Dortch is very well accustomed to playing with the odds against him.
Dortch said he knew he could play basketball at a high level. And now, under the bright lights of a Division I institution, he’s made it.