Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – You can call them the survivors.
Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus are still standing, preparing to launch one final shot at creating their own legacy with the UF men’s basketball team.
“It does seem like we’ve been here a while,’’ Parsons said. “We’ve had our ups and downs.’’
Parsons and Tyson arrived at Florida as part of the 2007 recruiting class. At the time, Florida was the center of the college hoops world, fresh off back-to-back national championships. Parsons and Tyus came in with big expectations – SEC titles, March Madness, Final Fours -- and even bigger shoes to fill.
The team Parsons and Tyus joined was minus the players who helped the Gators cut down those nets at the previous two Final Fours. By the time they slipped on orange and blue, former Gators Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Chris Richard, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green had left the building, all but Humphrey selected in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Besides Tyus and Parsons, Billy Donovan’s first recruiting class following the Gators’ back-to-back national titles also included Jai Lucas, Nick Calathes and Adam Allen. Lucas transferred to Texas, Calathes left after his sophomore season to sign a professional contract with a team in Greece, and Allen is unlikely to play again after three knee surgeries in two years.
Three years after first stepping onto the O-Dome court, Tyus and Parsons are ready to start their senior seasons on Thursday night with an exhibition game against Florida Tech. The senior duo has waited longer than expected, but they hope this could be the season some of their expectations early in their career are finally fulfilled.
The Gators are picked by many to win the SEC title and enter the season ranked in the Top 25, raising expectations for the program in large part due to a senior class led by Parsons and Tyus.
Donovan has been down this road before with these two. He recalls during their freshman season in 2007 when the Gators knocked off a ranked Vanderbilt team at the O’Connell Center. A few days later at Bud Walton Arena, the Gators fell behind by 25 points in the first half on the way to an 80-61 loss at Arkansas. Florida lost seven of its final 10 regular-season games that season to end up in the NIT.
“That was a product of not being able to handle winning,’’ Donovan said.
Donovan hopes the past taught the veteran leaders a valuable lesson.
“I think that if they’re going to rest their laurels on the fact on what preseason rankings say, then I think we’d be making a mistake,’’ Donovan said. “I made the comment in the past when Chandler and Alex – and some of those guys were ranked earlier on in their careers -- I don’t think they handled it well and they got too wrapped up in that perception and hopefully we can learn and grow and handle it better.”
Parsons has developed into one of the SEC’s top post players since his freshman season. He finished third on the team in scoring as a junior (12.4 points a game) and tied for the rebounding lead (6.9 per game) with Tyus.
Parsons also raised his profile nationally by hitting a pair of clutch game-winning shots at the buzzer, one at N.C. State and one at home against South Carolina.
“The shots were unbelievable and it was a great feeling, but to get those two wins late in the year was just awesome for our team,’’ Parsons said. “The N.C. State was complete luck. I can’t even take credit for that one. The South Carolina one was late in the SEC. We needed that win.’’
Parsons has a totally different approach to the game than when he joined the team fresh out of Lake Howell High near Orlando.
“After his freshman year, he really thought it was going to be pretty easy,’’ Donovan said. “All of a sudden, he got really, really humbled. He was not a guy we could really rely on. Chandler’s work ethic has always been great. But it was his mind that was not in a realistic place. It was a mind to me that was in fantasy land a little bit. I’m so proud of him as a kid and what he’s done and the way he’s grown.’’
Meanwhile, Tyus has also made significant strides entering his senior season. He contemplated entering the NBA Draft following last season, but opted to return to school. He worked extensively on his game over the summer at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
As a junior, Tyus averaged 11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds.
“I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m glad he’s back because he is a huge part of our team,’’ Parsons said.
With all five starters returning, Tyus is optimistic he and Parsons can help the Gators go far in the NCAA Tournament and erase some of the disappointments of the last three seasons. The Gators played in the NIT for two consecutive seasons until getting knocked out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
“My first two years, we had zero bench,’’ Tyus said. “We’ve got a bench. We really want to win the SEC. If we do that, I feel bigger things will happen for us. We want to have a big season.’’
Earlier this month at UF’s basketball media day, a reporter asked Parsons about his expectations as a senior. Parsons said he wanted the Gators to be in the national conversation among elite teams.
If that happens, Parsons and Tyus will have definitely made their final season a memorable one.
“We have a totally different mindset this year,’’ Parsons said. “We want to make noise.’’