Parsons grows up, ready to lead Gators

There have always been questions and doubts.

First, it was whether Chandler Parsons was talented enough to play alongside his more highly touted high school and summer teammate, Nick Calathes, at the University of Florida.

Back when the Gators first began recruiting Calathes, his sidekick was a fairly one-dimensional, 6-foot-4 shooter who preferred to take residence in the corner as the recipient of Calathes’ flashy passes.

But Florida coach Billy Donovan and the Gators later became convinced, along with a host of other high-major schools, that Parsons had grown enough — on the court and literally from head to toe — to offer him a scholarship.

However, after one season, Donovan was on the verge of regretting his decision as Parsons was high maintenance and earned a spot in Florida’s doghouse.

The only problem for Donovan was that he didn’t have much of a choice but to give Parsons time on the court due to the fact that the Gators were pitifully short on bodies.

Parsons still managed to get 20 minutes per game as a freshman while averaging 8.1 points and 4 rebounds per game, but regardless of the numbers, he was hardly a favorite of Donovan’s.

Parsons is now able to laugh when recalling the time he and his teammates were debating the future NBA success of then-North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough.

"Coach found out and told me he’d take one season of Hansbrough over four seasons from me,” Parsons said with a huge smile.

"When I came in as a freshman, my mindset was wrong,” Parsons admitted. "I didn’t buy into coach’s philosophy, I didn’t play any defense. I just didn’t get it.

"I just didn’t understand what it takes."

But Parsons has finally figured it out, and the now 6-foot-10, 225-pound senior is a matchup nightmare.

He’s far more athletic than most realize, he’s become aggressive on the offensive end and an improved defender and he should be the leader and top player for a Gators team that is looking to get the program back toward the days of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green.

"It’s been tough because this wasn’t how I expected everything to go when I came here,” Parsons said.

Parsons and his buddy, Calathes, expected to walk in and hang another banner.

Instead, the Gators missed out on the Big Dance their first two seasons in Gainesville before getting back to the NCAA tournament last season despite Calathes leaving after his sophomore season to sign a multi-million dollar deal to play in Greece.

Life has gone on for Parsons, and it’s fair to say he’s finally shifted from the shadow that has played alongside him for much of his life.

He averaged 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as a junior, his first year without Calathes since their days at Lake Howell High in Orlando.

"I loved playing with Nick,” said Parsons, who spent two weeks in Greece this summer visiting Calathes. "Obviously, he made me better. But I also think I had a pretty good year without him last year. You can look at it both ways. I feel like I’m able to play my game now a little more.”

Parsons’ game is all about versatility. Known back in the day as a spot-up shooter, that’s actually become one of the areas he’s spent the most time on in a busy summer that had him at Kevin Durant’s and LeBron James’ Skills Academy, in Greece with Calathes and in New York working out with former Gator David Lee.

He’s now likely to become Florida’s go-to guy and will even see time as the team’s backup point guard when Erving Walker needs a breather or is moved off the ball. The only thing, according to one NBA scout, holding Parsons back from becoming a first-round draft pick is a more consistent perimeter shot.

"I know I’ve got to be a more consistent shooter,” Parsons said. "From three and from the line.”

Talk to every player on the Gators’ roster, and one person has stood out all summer.

It’s not even close.

Parsons.

He — and not his former McDonald’s All-American teammate — has become the one in charge of getting the Gators back to national prominence.

"My confidence is there now,” Parsons said. "I think I can play with anyone.”

He’s right.

Parsons has matured. There’s the new attitude, the added length, the confidence and even the facial hair.

"I just wish I had realized everything earlier,” he said.

He’s not alone.