When UCLA announced the hiring of new head coach Steve Alford on Saturday, the rumor mill went into full-power production.
Most of the buzz centered around whether or not the former New Mexico coach could retain Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad and the recruits in the Bruins’ current class. And while those are all important points to consider, the biggest decision left unmade could be that of rising sophomore Tony Parker.
The 6’9″, 275-pound center from Atlanta had a disappointing debut season with UCLA, and his strained relationship with former head coach Ben Howland was a major factor in his underperformance. Parker averaged an insignificant 6.3 minutes per game, in which he tallied just 2.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG and 0.3 BPG. Needless to say, that’s not what the McDonald’s All-American was expecting when he chose to leave home for his college hoops.
As a result, many think Parker is destined to transfer out of UCLA in favor of playing closer to home, perhaps for the in-state Georgia Bulldogs. In fact, some UGA fans have gotten so punch-drunk on the idea they’ve begun to generate “sources” out of thin air.
But with Howland out the door and a new coach coming in, should Parker still bail out of his Bruin career?
When you look at the UCLA roster next season, it’s pretty glaring how empty the cupboards are in the frontcourt. There were only four non-guards on scholarship at the Bruins’ disposal in 2013, and that includes Muhammad, who is listed as a G/F at 6’6″ and 225 pounds.
Assuming that Muhammad does indeed declare for the NBA Draft (which is thought to be inevitable), UCLA would be left with Parker and the Wear twins as its only big men. There’s also incoming freshman Noah Allen, but the 3-star small forward measures in at just 6’6″ and 185 pounds, so he doesn’t bring much size to the table.
Couple that with the fact that David and Travis Wear will be seniors next year, and Coach Alford could be in a tight spot after his first season in Westwood. He will obviously do what he can in the world of recruiting to stock the pantry with bigs, but getting Parker to stick with UCLA would be a huge victory.
Instead of scrambling for size with a roster full of guards, Alford would be able to hone in on the development of Parker, who still has potential through the roof. Howland, who was often criticized for nepotism and a begrudging attitude, never took the time to train Parker. And, to no one’s surprise, the No. 26 overall prospect from the Class of 2012 appeared to check-out and resign himself to mediocrity.
However, with Alford taking the reins, Parker has a chance at redemption. If he recommits himself to the Bruins, Parker has a legitimate shot to earn himself a starting role next season. I highly doubt Alford will give D. Wear the kind of minutes he saw last season, especially if Parker is showing a propensity for progress.
It would be an absolute delight to see Parker, who was genuinely excited to come to UCLA last year, break out of his shell and become the dominant force we all thought he could be. With Parker, UCLA could be in a position to do great things in Year 1 of the Alford era. But without him, the Bruins will likely be far too undersized to compete with college basketball’s big boys.
Obviously, there are a myriad of factors that will weigh into his decision, but I truly hope he decides to stay with UCLA. And if my humble opinion means anything at all, I think it would be the right choice for him to return to Westwood.