Chandler Parsons sat across the table from Billy Donovan and the Florida coaching staff Friday afternoon, listening carefully as they explained their plan to continue his development, not just as a basketball player but as a person. The more they talked, the more convinced Parsons was that he could put an end to one of the summer’s hottest recruiting battles.
“I’m going to be a Gator,” said Parsons, a 6-9 forward from Winter Park Lake Howell with NBA range on his jump shot that committed to the University of Florida (recruiting class of 2007) Saturday afternoon. “They told me how they would use a plan to develop me like they used with Mike Miller and Matt Bonner and they talked about how the academics and how I could grow as a person at the University of Florida. That settled it for me. I’m committing to Florida.”
Parsons watched Friday as the Florida staff took the team through the paces as they worked out in preparation for a preseason trip to Canada where the Gators will play a couple of exhibition games. Watching the Gators practice only solidified what Parsons knew in his heart.
“It was unbelievable watching how hard those guys work,” said Parsons. “You watch guys like Joakim (Noah) and Al (Horford) and Lee (Humphrey) and all those guys … they’re good because they work hard. You understand why Joakim is so good when you see how hard he works in practice to get better. I liked the way the coaches and the veterans worked with the freshmen, too. Everybody was working together.
“I love the way Coach Donovan and the coaches work with the guys. You see why they get better because of the attention they get and the way those guys coach. I thought I really want to be a part of this.”
A red hot summer on the AAU circuit and a brilliant showing at the Nike camp made Parsons one of the nation’s hottest prospects. In Scout.com’s rankings, Parsons moved from unranked to number 86 and when the most recent rankings were compiled, he had moved up to number 56 nationally overall and number 12 in the small forward rankings.
Prior to the summer, Parsons had a handful of offers but that number exploded with his performance. Among the schools that offered were LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, Wake Forest, Virginia, West Virginia, Arizona State, Michigan State, Indiana, North Carolina State, Georgia, Ole Miss, Marquette, Boston College, Creighton, Miami, Virginia Tech, South Florida and Oklahoma.
Florida was always on his wish list, but the Gators were cautious in the way they approached him. The real breakthrough for Parsons came in June at Billy Donovan’s basketball camp. With Lake Howell teammates Nick Calathes (NBA Players Association Development Camp) and Joey Rodriguez (UMass camp) missing, Parsons took over as the point guard and go to option on offense as he led the Silver Hawks to the camp championship game, notching three games of 40-plus and one of 37 along the way.
Donovan and assistants Donnie Jones and Larry Shyatt saw a Parsons they had never seen before, one that created his own shot off the dribble, took charge of the team, played a roving, gambling defense and fought it out with stronger players for tough rebounds. The Florida coaching staff followed Parsons closely the rest of the summer as the skinny kid with NBA range on his jumper used his newly-found well-rounded game to light up the AAU and camp circuit.
“I think they saw me do a lot of things they had never seen me do before,” said Parsons. “I came to camp and had to take the team on my shoulders with Nick and Joey gone and I think that opened their eyes.
“The confidence I got from playing that well in front of them just carried over. I was already having a good summer with my AAU team (Nike Team Florida) but I just played with consistency and confidence the rest of the way.”
Parsons wowed the coaches at the Nike camp and followed that up by lighting up some of the top defenders in the country at the Peach Jam in Augusta where he averaged 27 points a game. At the AAU nationals in Orlando, he averaged more than 25 a game and had a best effort of 40 against the Jackson Tigers but the most memorable game was against Delvon Roe-led All-Ohio when Calathes and Parsons combined to hit their last seven three-pointers to lead Team Florida from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to a 74-73 win.
“I worked really hard this summer and all the hard work paid off,” said Parsons. “When we (Team Florida) lost Solomon (Alabi, 7-1 center) and Joseph (Kautuka, 6-11 power forward) Nick and I had to step it up to pick up the slack for our team and I think that brought out the best in me.”
Everybody knew that Parsons could shoot jump shots but it wasn’t until the summer games that he showed he can put the ball on the floor to take it to the rack or create space for his jump shot off the dribble. He also showed that he is an above-average defender and a good rebounder in spite of his lack of bulk (he’s 190 pounds).
Parsons also proved that he is worthy of the attention from so many of the nation’s big time programs. Prior to the summer circuit, he was overshadowed by Calathes, the number 14 ranked player (by Scout.com) nationally who is also a Florida commitment. It was important for Parsons to be recognized as a player worthy of a scholarship and not just Tonto to Calathes’ Lone Ranger.
“I talked about it with Coach Donovan and he even told me that if they had offered me six months ago it would have been more because I’m a good player that plays with Nick instead of a player that deserves a scholarship to Florida,” said Parsons. “They were patient with me and they kept watching. They let me develop into my own player and when they were satisfied that I’m the kind of player that can fit in with what they’re doing and that I’m someone that can come to Florida and contribute to the team, they offered.
“I’m happy with that. I’m comfortable with that. I feel like I’ve earned the scholarship. I’m happy that I’m going to play with Nick. He’s my best friend in the world and the best teammate you could ask for, but I’m glad that I earned a chance to play with him in college. Nobody gave me this. I got a chance to earn it.”
He’s already on a conditioning program to gain strength and weight. The goal is to get to 205 pounds by the time Lake Howell’s season begins and beyond that he hopes to get up to around 220 before he arrives at Florida in the summer of 2007.
“I have 15 months before I play my first gameas a Gator,” he said. “I have all that time to get stronger and more physically ready to play. I am going to be a totally different and better player by the time I get to Gainesville for good.”
Parsons is Florida’s fifth commitment for 2007. He joins Calathes (6-6 point guard), Gary Clark (6-4 wing guard from Sarasota Booker), Adam Allen (6-7 shooting guard from Milton) and Alex Tyus (6-9 power forward/center from Cincinnati’s Harmony Christian Prep).
“This is an awesome group of guys coming in,” said Parsons. “I’ve played with or against all these guys and every one of them can play. Nick’s the best point guard in the country. He’s my best friend but if I had to play with one guy it would be Nick because he’s such a great teammate. Gary is a really quick guard who can play great defense and shoot the three. Adam Allen is one of the purest shooters you’ll find and he’s a tough defensive player. Alex Tyus is a great finisher and he can block shots.”
The Gators can sign as many as two other players in the class of 2007 and the top targets for those two spots are 6-8-1/2 power forward Patrick Patterson of Huntington, West Virginia and 6-9 center J.J. Hickson of Marietta (GA) Wheeler. Parsons said that the Florida commits are going to start working hard to get Patterson and Hickson in the class.
“We’ll all be there for our official visit on September 9,” he said. “It’s going to be a great day at The Swamp with the Gators getting their championship rings and everything. Nick and I and all the other guys coming in are going to work on Patrick and J.J. If we get those two guys to go with the rest of us, Florida’s going to really be awesome the next four years.”