New hero on the block

With Tim Tebow graduated and off in Mobile showing off his wares before about a zillion pro football scouts, coaches, general managers and personnel directors at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Chandler Parsons has assumed the role of the unofficial student king of the University of Florida campus. Hitting two game-winning shots in the same season will do that for you. Hitting the game-winner before a jam-packed O-Dome crowd on a Saturday night with an ESPN national television audience only helps fuel the fire and the proof is on Facebook.

Parsons thought he was a popular guy after he launched a 70-foot laser guided buzzer beating desperation shot in Raleigh that was pure agony for the North Carolina State crowd. Just Saturday night, the crowd of 12,094 scrunched into the O-Dome felt the ecstasy when Parsons knocked down a 22-footer from the left wing in the last second to give Florida a 58-56 win over South Carolina.

That set off a frenzy in the O-Dome but it also rendered his cell phone useless with incoming calls and texts. Only a few folks have his cell phone number. Facebook is a different story altogether. Since Saturday night there have been more than 200 friend requests and even more notifications. It’s gotten to the point where he’ll have to open a new site just to accommodate his newest, bestest cyber buddies.

“I got to the 5000 mark on friends on my Facebook,” Parsons said Monday morning. “That’s the limit. They won’t let me accept any more friends.”

It is a role reversal for the same guy fans vilified as a choker last year when he bricked the front end of a one-and-one at South Carolina that could have won the game. He glows with pride because he made the shot to beat South Carolina. He understands what might have happened if he had missed.

“That ball rolls out maybe everyone is calling you a choke,” he said. “You can’t really take it to heart.”

* * *

Parsons is a campus hero because everybody remembers the shot that beat South Carolina. Not everybody remembers the sequence of events that created the opportunity.

Following a Devan Downey off-balance leaner with less than six seconds to go that gave the Gamecocks a 56-55 lead, Dan Werner alertly snatched the ball as it was coming out of the basket and found Erving Walker turning upcourt. It sounds simple, but when tenths of a second are precious, the awareness to get the ball inbounds and to a player who has open court ahead is critical.

Walker made the proper choice to get the ball in the middle of the court. That meant the Gamecocks couldn’t use the sideline like an extra defender and squeeze him. To Walker’s left, both Parsons and Kenny Boynton were sprinting full speed down the floor and that could have posed a problem because of spacing issues.

“Sometimes two players on the same side of the floor one defender can play two people,” explained Billy Donovan.

Boynton showed real court awareness, particularly for a freshman, because he cut diagonally across the lane to the right side of the basket to make himself a target if Walker got into the lane on the dribble. The defender was forced to go with Boynton and that left Parsons wide open on the left wing.

That still left Walker with a decision to make. As Florida’s best outside shooter, South Carolina defenders thought he was going to stop and pop from behind the three-point line, so two defenders tried to cut him off. Instead of trying to force himself into the paint, Walker flipped the pass over to the left wing where Parsons delivered the game-winner.

“When I talk about little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet …. Boynton made the play for Chandler because what he did was he ran through toward the basket and the South Carolina defender had to take him going to the basket, which freed up Chandler on the wing,” Donovan said. “If Boynton doesn’t run and cut through and just stands there, Chandler’s shot — I’m not saying wouldn’t have gone in but it would have been at least a more difficult shot in that situation.”

It was perfect execution. Everybody involved in the play did the right thing and there wasn’t even a split second to spare.

* * *

Back in the early 1980s when Alfredrick Hughes was scoring at a record clip at Loyola of Chicago, he once missed 25 shots in a row before hitting an impossible shot near the end of the game. In the locker room after the game, all Hughes could do was ask reporters, “Did you see the one I hit?” That is what we call shooter’s mentality.

Parsons doesn’t have that kind of overblown sense of confidence, but he does have a shooter’s mentality. He can miss ten shots in a row but when it’s time to take the next one, he will let it rip with confidence, believing it’s going in the hole. In the two weeks prior to the South Carolina game, Parsons twice found himself in position to hit a buzzer beater shot during last second shot situations in practice.

“I actually missed two last week and a couple of weeks ago in practice where I got the ball and a chance to win it in a game,” Parsons said. “Like the NC State game, what are the chances the ball bouncing off right in my hands off the free throw line? The other night against those guys, Erv kicking it out, being wide open, setting my feet … just everything has to happen so perfectly.  Honestly, I was just in the right spot at the right time and I knocked it down.”

Just like there was a certain element of luck involved in Parsons hitting the 70-footer that beat North Carolina State, there is an element of luck involved in pulling off a game-winning play like the one against South Carolina. So many things are involved. Will the defense try to defend the inbound passer? Will they double the best ball handler? Will they zone or play man-to-man? Will they try to cut off the main ball handler and force the ball in the hands of someone less confident on the dribble? Will they pack the paint and give the three or will they attack the shooter? What if it’s an inbounds play from the sideline when the passer can’t move his feet?

Donovan tries to create as many situations as possible in practice so the Gators will be prepared for any defense they see, but no matter how much preparation goes into last second situations circumstances can change in a blink of an eye.

“Sometimes things happen in a game that spontaneously just happen but we try to create as many of those situations as we can for our team, just so at least they know what they’re supposed to do and then what’s next is the execution part,” Donovan said.

When he was an All-American at Providence, Billy Donovan developed a well-deserved reputation as a clutch shooter. He was the guy Rick Pitino wanted to have the ball in the final seconds. The way Erving Walker is shooting the ball these days — 19-31 (61.3 percent) on three-pointers in SEC play — it would figure that if there is a play designed at the end of the game that Walker is the guy Donovan would want firing the last shot. But it doesn’t always work out that the guy you want to shoot will get the opportunity.

And then there are some guys whose get nervous in clutch situations.

“It’s a great question,” Donovan said, “because when you look and you’re put into those situations, sometimes you can say as a coach, ‘Okay listen, last second play and I’ve got this great play we’re going to run and you’re going to get the shot and you’re going to be wide open’ and the guy’s walking out of the huddle, ‘Oh my God, I can’t miss this shot because I’m going to be wide open.’ Sometimes it’s easier on the spontaneity of the play for a guy to make a shot.”

Chandler Parsons had no time to think about the shot that made him Saturday’s hero, but when asked if he would have been nervous if the play had been designed for him, Parsons responded, “100 percent I’m going to shoot the ball with confidence.”

* * *

In the three weeks since he was everybody’s play of the day for the miracle shot against North Carolina State, Chandler Parsons has tried his best to recreate the game-winner in the gym.

“I’ve probably been in the gym until 2 a.m. some nights trying it and I swear to God I’ve never hit again,” he said. “I’ve tried many a time and I’ve had my girlfriend there rebounding … for hours. Still couldn’t hit it. A few times I came close but I was getting too tired.”

There is a fine line that separates the hero from the goat. Nobody would have called Parsons a goat if he had missed the shot against North Carolina State — shots like that happen maybe a handful of times each year — but if the shot against South Carolina had been off even a millimeter, the outcome could have been completely different.

Donovan met with Parsons Sunday and tried to put it in perspective for the 6-9 junior from Casselberry.

“When you make a game winning shot like that you’re not as great as everybody thinks you are and when you miss a shot you’re not as bad as everybody thinks you are,” Donovan said. “The key is to look back on the amount of time you’ve put in as a player in this offseason to put yourself in that position and if you lose sight of that … and I’ve got it all figured out and I know how to do this now the next time you might not be as prepared. Trying to get him to understand, you’ve worked to put yourself in this position. Don’t let complacency or lack of focus or any of this other stuff get in the way of you getting better.”

Complacency isn’t likely to happen, in part because there is that lingering memory of what happened last year in Columbia.

“I’ve missed a free throw at South Carolina,” he said.

That missed free throw set off a firestorm on Facebook but times have indeed changed. The proof is at Facebook where he has to start a new page since the old one has reached its friend limit.

It’s great to have friends, but it’s even better to keep it all in perspective. He realizes he is a hero because he and his teammates instinctively executed what they do every day in practice. He also knows that even with perfect execution, the shot might not have dropped.

“Everything had to happen so perfectly for that to happen,” Parsons said. “I could have easily been on the other side of that.”

Having been on the other side, however, being the new hero on the block is much, much better.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.