One on One with Chris Dortch: Chandler Parsons
Chandler Parsons’ Florida teammates are killing him this season.
First there was Vernon Macklin’s inadvertent towel shot to the nether regions in an ESPN-televised game at Georgia. Contact occurred just after Parsons had knocked down a huge three-pointer, and seconds later the big man fell to the court like he’d been tased. Of course, the scene lives on in infamy on the Internet—a recent Google search netted 9,530 results. But hey, you can’t pay for that kind of publicity.
Five games later, against Tennessee, Parsons fell victim to Alex Tyus’ accidental knee to the thigh while both were trying to control a rebound. The blow left a nasty bruise, put Parsons on crutches and knocked him out of a game against LSU, but he’s on schedule to return this week, probably Thursday night against Georgia.
It’s going to take more than a towel snap and a thigh bruise to keep Parsons down in this, the best year of his collegiate career. Parsons’ resilience and toughness mirrors that of his team. In racking up 10 Southeastern Conference victories in their first 12 games, the Gators won twice in overtime, once in double overtime, defeated Tennessee by a point and rallied late to fend off an Auburn upset bid. Five of those 10 wins came on the road.
The result: by mid February, Florida, which missed the NCAA Tournament in Parsons’ first two seasons and barely snuck in last year—perhaps thanks to Parsons’ 75-foot heave for a game-winning three-pointer against NC State—had comfortably secured its spot in the Big Dance.
Parsons (10.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.6 apg) has played a huge role in the Gators’ run through the SEC, displaying a versatile game that was borne out of struggles that dated all the way back to his sophomore season. At 6-foot-10, Parsons came to Florida in the fall of 2007 with the reputation of being a game-breaking shooter, but ironically, it was his shot that almost broke Parsons. By his own admission, he was slow to grasp coach Billy Donovan’s system and even a bit resistant to coaching. When his jumper stopped falling, Parsons was at a crossroads—he had to either find other ways to contribute or risk being taken out of the lineup.
“I know this sounds crazy,” said Florida associate head coach Larry Shyatt, “but it turned out to be a real blessing for Chandler when he went through that tough drought shooting the ball as a sophomore. Instead of being that guy who couldn’t make a putt, he became a better handler, passer, rebounder and defender. A reliable player. As his game matured, his body and mind matured, and most of all, he really began listening to Billy.
“Now people were describing Chandler and his game with adjectives like versatile, creative. He wasn’t a guy who did just one thing, and he began to present defenses with a lot of problems.”
No longer one dimensional, Parsons provided Donovan a weapon for which he continues to find new uses.
“With his size, he’s got a good feel of how to play,” Donovan said. “You can put the ball in his hands and he can make decisions and alleviate pressure off our guards. He really does everything—he rebounds his position well, handles it, shoots it, puts it on the floor and makes plays. Sometimes we’ve played him at the point, and sometimes we make an entry pass to him and he can make plays. He’s been that kind of guy for us. He’s been a very versatile and well-rounded player.”
That versatility carried Parsons through another scoring drought this season. The low point came Dec. 1 in a stunning loss to UCF in his hometown. In that game, Parsons was 1-of-9 from the floor and missed all six of his free throw attempts. His misery continued during a streak of five straight single-digit scoring games in December.
But if Parsons couldn’t get his own shots to fall, he could create them for others. He essentially became the nation’s tallest point guard as more of the Gators’ offense came through him, allowing 5-8 Erving Walker to do his thing off the ball.
Then came that Georgia game, during which Parsons scored nine points in overtime to secure a momentum-building win. For Parsons, it was well worth being on the business end of Macklin’s celebratory towel wave.
“I think I got more publicity from that than I did from the two game-winning shots I hit [the season before],” Parsons said. My texts, Twitter and Facebook where going crazy. It’s funny to think back on now because I made the shot. If the outcome had been different, I don’t think it would be so funny.”
About that same time, Chandler began flashing another skill, becoming a rebounding madman. In six straight games he grabbed between 10 and 15 rebounds. Consecutive double-doubles against Vanderbilt (18-11) and Kentucky (17-12) on Feb. 1 and 5 earned Parsons SEC Player-of-the-Week honors and a national player of the week award from the U.S. Basketball Writers and Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
“Rebounding is all about effort,” Parsons said. “Going to the glass is a decision everyone has a choice to make. Every game, I want to go to the offensive glass. Most small forwards aren’t as big as me, so I’ve got an advantage, a better opportunity to get to rebounds easier.”
“He’s a great offensive rebounder because he loves to move, he’s not lazy, and he’s got stamina,” Shyatt said. “If you notice, late in game he gets some of his most impressive tips and dunks and offensive rebounds. As other people tire, he’s the Eveready battery. He’s a mover.
“In basketball, a lot of guys pick their spots. You can catch them resting. That’s not Chandler Parsons. When that bell rings at the end, he’s pretty spent.”
In his final season, Parsons hopes the Gators can approach what the great Florida teams from 2006-07 did. He admits that when he and fellow five-star recruit Nick Calathes checked in from Orlando’s Lake Howell High School in 2007, they just assumed they could help Florida keep its national title run going. Things didn’t quite work out that way.
“It was disappointing,” Parsons said of missing the NCAAs his first two seasons. “We came in after arguably one of the best teams ever in college basketball. We’re playing six freshmen 20 minutes a game. The combination of us being young and having huge shoes to fill got to us. But coach Donovan made it clear we’re our own team, a completely different team, and we have our own identity.”
This season, the Gators’ identity, their calling card, has been finding a way to win.
“That’s huge,” Parsons said. “Everything we’ve been through as a team has prepared us for March. Playing close games, playing such a good non-conference schedule [Ohio State, Kansas State, Florida State, Xavier]. We’re not looking ahead to March; we’re trying to win [an SEC] championship before March comes. But all those close games have brought our team closer and made us tougher, made us aware that you have to value every possession.”