Dec 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins forward/center Tony Parker (23) shoots against Alabama Crimson Tide guard Rodney Cooper (21) during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Parker, Leader Of The Bruin Big Men

The UCLA basketball team has had a major transformation since their NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen exit in March. Five Bruins are leaving the program which leaves a large hole in the roster. UCLA has the #7 recruiting class coming in next year (according to 247 Sports), which will help reload, but experience and leadership will be lacking. That is where UCLA’s soon-to-be junior center, Tony Parker, comes into the picture.

Only after two seasons, Parker will be the most experienced Bruin behind Norman Powell (pending he returns). Not only is that a lot to handle, but it is a lot to live up to with those four letters on your chest. But it is his time and Parker is ready to take over.

Growing Pains

Nov 13, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins forward/center Tony Parker (23) defends the shot of UC Irvine Anteaters guard/forward Michael Wilder (23) during the game at Pauley Pavalion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Parker did not have the smoothest start at UCLA. In his first season, his relationship with the old coaching staff could be defined as ‘rough’. Playing very few minutes at a school across the country from his home state of Georgia, in a city he is not familiar with is hard enough. To do it as a kid coming out of high school having great expectations placed onto him as the next big man for UCLA was quite possibly a living hell.

There were rumblings about Parker maybe leaving Westwood after his freshman season to play somewhere closer to home. If this was the case, the 6’9″, 255 lbs. center would be another in a long line of Bruins to transfer away from Ben Howland coached teams. But then change occurred.

Howland was out and Steve Alford was in as head coach. Alford’s first job was to re-recruit the players that were already at UCLA, especially Parker. With a new system and outlook toward the future, Tony Parker remained in Westwood.

Major Improvements

So what did he do this past season? Improve. As much as the Bruin faithful wanted Parker to go out and be Shaquille O’Neal every game, or at the very least, be the next dominant Bruin center since Kevin Love, it was just not going to happen. He had no marked development in his first season due to very little in-game experience. But what happened from year one to year two are major improvement. Check out his statistics in his first two seasons.

2012-13 Stats: 6.3 mins, 2.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.3 blocks, .438 FT%, .541 FG%

2013-14 Stats: 17.2 mins, 6.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, .468 FT%, .602 FG%

In addition, Parker led the entire UCLA team in field goal percentage. That is huge! That means he is getting the job done underneath the basket, which is all you can ask of a center. Just imagine what he will do next season.

Jan 24, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins forward/center Tony Parker (23) holds the ball after a foul during the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 84-73. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

If you followed UCLA basketball this past season, you saw that Parker has the ability to score at will. Against Alabama, he had an eventful night with a game-high 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting and was the X factor in a win over the Crimson Tide. There are also games where he lacked production, like the following game against USC. UCLA won 107-73, but Parker only managed 5 points. Inconsistent, yes, but last season was about getting better and comfortable in his role. Now that he is, he will lead a new group of Bruin big men in Alford’s second year as head coach.

Leader Of Men

With the loss of forwards David Wear, Travis Wear and Kyle Anderson, Parker will be thrust into a starting role as well as a leadership role. The Bruins have Kevon Looney, Thomas Welsh, Jonah Bolden and Gyorgy Goloman coming in to thicken up the front court next fall (all 6’8″ or taller), but will also need a leader. Parker is that leader. He will not only be expected to produce, but will be expected to lead these young men into another era of Bruin basketball. Tony Parker’s era.

Next season, UCLA will be big and if Tony Parker can maximize his potential, not only will he be big at UCLA, but he could very well be the biggest thing in the Pac-12.

Mike W.R.

Twitter: @TheBigDisco

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