UCLA center Tony Parker, right, says he was 'homesick' and plans… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
UCLA Coach Ben Howland's voice was a monotone when he was asked to respond to some unhappy Twitter comments made by one of his highly regarded freshmen.
Center Tony Parker had expressed some unhappiness about his time at UCLA to the Twitterverse. Howland said that there's no trouble between him and the 6-foot-9 freshman from Atlanta and that Parker had two of his best practices on Christmas and the day after.
But UCLA's practice landscape is anonymous to almost everyone. Howland doesn't welcome the outside world to watch the process of how he gets his teams ready for games.
After practice Thursday, Parker, who is averaging 8.6 minutes a game, said he had every intention of staying at UCLA. At least for this season. As for next year, Parker was making no promises. And he said he had no second thoughts about his tweets. "Not at all," Parker said. "I was homesick. Those were my feelings."
Howland's tone changed when he spoke about fifth-year senior Larry Drew II.
When UCLA hosts seventh-ranked Missouri on Friday in its last game before Pac-12 play begins, the most glamorous and crucial matchup will be between the point guards: Drew, a fifth-year senior playing only his 13th game as a Bruin after spending three years at North Carolina, and Phil Pressey, a junior who led the Big 12 in assists and steals a year ago and seems ready to do the same in the Southeastern Conference, where Missouri is now.
Howland is impressed with Pressey, whose father, Paul, was a notable NBA player. But he's equally impressed with Drew, whose father played at Missouri.
Even after a trio of freshmen (Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson) combined for 72 points and 31 rebounds in the Bruins' 91-78 win Fresno State last week, Howland wanted to highlight Drew's 10 assists and one turnover.
And in a conference call Wednesday, Howland again praised Drew, one of two players who were made available to speak on the call (Anderson was the other).
"Larry has really, really been good when you look at his numbers and just what he's been doing in terms of his assist-to-turnover ratio," Howland said.
"He has 102 assists against just 19 turnovers. He's improving his defensive intensity, which is obviously something we need out of him."
Howland seems eager to see Drew and Pressey against each other.
"It's just ball screen after ball screen with their offense," Howland said. "Their point guard is great at splitting the hedge or attacking the plug. It will be a good matchup. They're both good point guards."
Drew, who is 6-2, said he has noticed a few things about the 5-foot-11 Pressey. "He's small, but when he comes off the dribble he makes the right reads," Drew said.
Also, Drew said, upsetting Missouri would be, "a huge ray to our season. It would be good for us. We'll see what we're made out of."
After beginning the season nationally ranked, the Bruins are unranked after losses to Georgetown, Cal Poly and San Diego State. But other than fourth-ranked and unbeaten Arizona, no other Pac-12 team is in the top 25. Drew noted that means the conference race will be wide open.
Drew had advice for Parker as well. Drew spent some unhappy time at North Carolina before he finally left and came home to UCLA. "It's tough," Drew said. "Everybody coming into a high-major program was the best player in high school and expecting to get a lot of minutes. It's a learning experience. You have to have growth and get better from your mistakes."
Freshman Anderson is old-school when it comes to movies. He said his favorite Christmas present came from his brother. It was DVDs of the first three "Star Wars" movies. Anderson said, "I'm big about getting the Force, becoming the Jedi."