For what it�s worth, the Gators still have managed to get SportsCenter representation from out the orange-and-blue sphere. Alumni representation, that is.
In fact, Chandler Parsons seems to show up on ESPN these days as much as Skip Bayless.
�And that�s a good thing, right?� Parsons said Wednesday.
It is for the Houston Rockets, who have won four straight and five of their last seven since inserting Parsons into the starting lineup two weeks ago. A second-round pick (the 38th overall selection), the 6-foot-9, versatile forward is filling up box scores like he did his final season as a Gator when he was named 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
His numbers since promoted to the Rockets� first five: 29 minutes, 8.6 points on 46-percent shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game. That�s good. This is better: After starting the season 2-5, the Rockets have evened their record at 7-7 and are very much in the Western Conference picture heading into tonight�s home game against the New Orleans Hornets.
Parsons might be on the verge of his biggest assist ever.
In the words of Rockets coach Kevin McHale, �He just does things.�
The kinds of things that win games. The same things he did to help lead the Gators to the SEC regular-season title last season and all the way to NCAA Tournament�s Elite Eight.
�I am loving life right now,� Parsons said. �Everything is just great. We�re winning games, we�ve got a streak going and I�m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity I have right now and get better with this team. I like how I�m playing. I like my teammates and my coaches. Everything is just very positive right now.�
So says the guy who last week threw down (and then proceeded to stare down) L.A. Clippers dunking phenom and reigning NBA slam champion Blake Griffin.
�It was all in fun,� Parson said. �We�re friends.�
Parsons is making a lot of friends these days. His Twitter account has blown up the last few weeks to more than 20,000 followers.
His friends back in Gainesville, meanwhile, have been following Parsons since his career ended in overtime of the NCAA Southeast Region final against Butler.
�He�s doing really well,� UF junior forward Erik Murphy said. �It�s a little surprising, being so soon. Great for him, though.�
�I didn�t know he�d get the opportunity to start this early, and a lot of that has to do with what team drafts you,� Gators coach Billy Donovan said. �But he�s gotten that opportunity and made the most of it. Obviously, he�s working hard -- but he�s always worked hard. I never, ever had a problem with his effort.�
Parsons did, however, take a while to figure out the mental side of playing college basketball. Donovan said it wasn�t until well into Parsons� junior season that his game truly began to take flight to the point he could be counted on consistently.
Coincidentally, those last two years found the Gators in the NCAA Tournament, following a two-year banishment to the NIT. Not so coincidentally, that was about the time the NBA scouts started to take notice.
�I�ll be honest, up until about December of his senior year, I always saw Chandler as a tremendous underachiever,� said ESPN.com NBA analyst David Thorpe. �But he figured things out. Good for him.�
Good timing, too. Parsons senior season statistics weren�t eye-popping, but there a bunch of them: 34 minutes, 11.3 points on 48-percent shooting, 37 percent from the arc, plus nearly eight rebounds and four assists per game.
Funny. Those numbers look an awful lot like his rookie stats as a starter who came into the league without the benefit of a summer league or much of a training camp due to the lockout, and with very little expectations. All he really had as far as competitive basketball to prepare for the NBA was a month playing in France last August.
�There was obviously some pressure on me,� said Parsons, who as a second-round pick, per NBA rules, did not have guaranteed contract. �The lockout was frustrating, but I just tried to stay positive and kept working on my game so that I was ready to go. When it came time, I was in really good shape.�
Scroll the list of the 37 players drafted before Parsons and some might wonder how a prospect so versatile and skilled as a shooter, passer and ball-handler possibly could have remained on the board so long. Clearly, the Casselberry, Fla., product is showing that he should not have.
Compare Parsons� rookie NBA numbers (through Wednesday's games) to those of the 12 small forwards taken before him:
- No. 2 - Derrick Williams, Minnesota (no starts, 7.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
- No. 4 - Tristan Thompson, Cleveland (no starts, 7.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
- No. 6 - Jan Vesely, Washington (no starts, 2.7 points, 2.3 rebounds per game)
- No. 15 - Kawhi Leonard, Indiana (5 starts, 8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
- No. 18 - Chris Singleton, Washington (7 starts, 4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
- No. 19 - Tobias Harris, Charlotte (no starts, 8.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
- No. 23 - Nikola Mirotic, Chicago (did not sign)
- No. 26 - Jordan Hamilton, Denver (played in 2 games, no points)
- No. 30 - Jimmy Butler, Chicago (played in 8 games, 2.6 ppg, 0.8 rpg)
- No. 31 - Bojan Bogdanovic, Miami (did not sign)
- No. 33 - Kyle Singler, Detroit (did not sign)
- No. 35 - Tyler Honeycutt, Sacramento (played in 1 game)
�I think teams were worried about what role he could play, but clearly it wasn�t a fluke how he competed as a senior -- and he�s no fluke now,� Thorpe said of the player who left UF as the No. 12 scorer in school history with 1,452 points. �He�s playing his rear end off every possession and his size is allowing him to make an impact on defense and rebounding.�
Thorpe cautioned that it�s too early -- �Wayyyy too early� -- to anoint Parsons as the steal of the NBA draft, but at this rate he�ll be in the conversation.
And Parsons has no thoughts of pacing himself.
�No way,� he said. �The reason I�m on the floor is because of how hard I compete and play every day. There will be no pacing. That �rookie wall� they talk about is what you make of it. At the end of the day, it�s basketball. In college, everyone talks about the �freshman wall.� I think you just have to go out there, keep working and good things are going to happen if you play extremely hard.�
The positive reinforcement of nightly ESPN highlights helps.