After hiring new head coach Steve Alford earlier this offseason, the Bruins are expected to crank up the pace of their game. Look to the NBA, for example, where teams like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder have established high-flying and up-tempo offenses still capable of slowing down, running out the clock and playing it smart. By comparison, the Houston Rockets, with newly acquired All-Star center Dwight Howard, will have a chance to change into a team with the qualities of OKC or Miami. The UCLA Bruins will start the season in the same boat as the Rockets, with a big man who has a chance to carry the team to new heights – but it won’t be easy.
Alford’s predecessor—Ben Howland—shot and missed time after time. Without capitalizing on the athleticism of players like Russell Westbrook, the Bruins fell short of their capabilities under Howland time and again. Nonetheless, falling short in those days still meant greatness. Those teams competed in three-straight Final Fours—one of which ended as a runner-up finish in the National Championship Game.
But as great as that was, why did they continue to fall just short? No player developed into a skilled, post up, rebounding big man that could be relied on to put the team on his back. One-and-done superstar Kevin Love was the closest thing to it, and while he did dominant down low, he was often found well outside the arc.
This season, rising sophomore Tony Parker is UCLA’s only true center, their Lone Ranger if you will. He possesses strengths to be capitalized on—unique abilities reserved for a few players in the game of basketball today based solely on his size. Parker is a talent that fans all across Los Angeles hoped would develop and thrive with a body like Josh Smith, but without all the baggage.
So what is this talent, you ask? Well, it involves posting up, playing tough, rebounding, blocking, establishing position in the paint and a multitude of intangibles that led to him becoming a dominant center in high school. Smith never lost the weight he needed to, and thus never preformed at the level he could. But now that he’s at Georgetown, the door is wide open for Parker to become the man in 2013. The talent he flashed in his limited playing time last season was promising, but just as his minutes did, Parker’s short lived effectiveness faded and flickered out.
If the Bruins big man, with the help of Coach Alford, can refine his fundamental skills and natural talent, UCLA is destined for a deep run in March. Walking in the footsteps of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton is no easy task. It’s a monumental level to live up to, but perfect to look up to. Of course, Parker is not even in the conversation for being the next Kareem, but walking in his shadow can be a motivation—to be the best he can be, he has to look up to the people that paved the way before him.
In Johnathan Franklin‘s career on Spaulding Field and the Rose Bowl turf, the number 3,731 had to be in his thoughts. It had to have triggered something, whether or not he realized it. 3,731 was UCLA’s all-time career rushing record set by Gaston Green. In Franklin’s senior year, he passed that number in a rout of Arizona and then went on to crush it and claim the top spot for himself. It was all a matter of motivation and hard work, and it parallels where Parker is at nicely.
Do I expect Tony Parker to win the Naismith Award or average 26 and 15 like Kareem? Of course not. But I do expect him to believe that he can. I expect him to achieve his potential and reach as high as he can in his second season in Westwood. Tony Parker is the make or break player for UCLA next season—and he’s got to perform.