Tonight is the NBA draft and there is a high probability no UCLA players will be drafted. And, no, this is not because UCLA basketball is dead or irrelevant. On Sunday, UCLA tied North Carolina for the most alums having won an NBA title:
But, looking at this year's NBA draft, only one UCLA player is eligible, the Littlest Big Man and the Funniest Dude, Tony Parker. Parker’s career is somewhat surreal. I was trying to go back and find a few posts on Tony and his career but, instead, I will tell my feelings and thoughts on the kid from Lithonia, Georgia. The latter is important because, unlike, say, Kareem Abdul Jabbar or more recently Kyle Anderson, this was not merely a case of a kid traveling across the country to come to UCLA.
This was a case of a kid leaving the country and his tightknit family for the big lights of LA. This was a kid who went from being the biggest fish in a small pond to being a Center shorter than his Point Guard. His announcement was wildly mocked (in good spirit) by Bruins Nation readers in the comments for taking hours. Tony's recruitment wasn't an easy process.
This lead to his freshman year to being an unqualified disaster. He was arguably a fourth string Center to start the season behind Josh Smith and the Wear brothers. Ironically, for a kid struggling with his weight, he was not the heaviest on the team (Josh Smith dwarfed him) but he was not only the shortest Center but the shortest true forward. He saw only token action including a total of 14 minutes in the last 6 Pac-10 games. He almost left that December as he was understandably homesick.
Early this campaign Tony showed his ability to dominate lesser and smaller players when he lit up Oakland for 22 points in Steve Alford’s second game as coach. Parker was temporarily a starter for the injured Travis Wear but was eventually back on the bench. However, he was to be a significant contributor this season and especially would shine against Stanford, going 15-22 in two regular season games against Stanford.
Tony was firmly entrenched as a starter and had his best season shooting, 54% from the field and 58% from the line. He was a force in the low post and very effective when he had the ball down there. However, he was almost as valuable on defense. The two games Tony missed with back spasms UCLA was blown out in a lost Oregon trip. Tony had his best game in the NCAA tournament against UAB having a double-double scoring 28 points (on 11-14 shooting) and 12 rebounds. Tony looked to be one of the best low post players (a dying skill) in the Pac-12.
Tony’s season started with a shocking proposition. The formerly 300+ pound Parker was now thinner and playing the four or power forward. The good and bad of this was shown in his first game against Monmouth. He had spectacular numbers, 19 points and rebounds, but fouled out in part because he was chasing smaller people. UCLA lost that game in OT without Tony on the floor. Tony’s senior season was marked by inconsistency, benching, some big wins, and more ugly losses in the Pac-12.
It can be argued that part of the blame goes to Alford for trying to make Tony a power forward. Big-Big paired with Thomas Welsh worked for a bit and could in spots but against Pac-12 teams with a number of athletes it seemed doomed to fail. One stat, in his last four games Tony had less rebounds than his first game of the season. It is unfortunate ending to Tony’s career. A four year player like Tony deserves better than being the victim of an experiment (big-big) his senior season.
That said, Tony earned the respect of Bruins' fans for sticking out a personally tough freshman season and a very difficult senior season for the team. Tony did not lose his cool publicly nor did he whine or complain. Actually, Tony may be best remembered for his joking nature. I will refer everyone to my favorite post on Tony.
It just doesn't look like Tony will be drafted tonight, but, with some luck and hard work, hopefully, he'll be able to sign with a team as a result of the NBA Summer League or, perhaps, he can go the D-League route. But, no matter what happens, we wish you the best.
Thanks Tony. We are really glad you made the trip.