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UCLA's Tony Parker has big potential

The 6-9, 275-pound freshman could provide the big inside presence the Bruins need, but he's still making the transition to college play.

January 23, 2013|By Chris Foster

These days there is no one on the UCLA basketball roster more talked about than Tony Parker. His uneven path to this point has been traced and dissected.

He was the "Ringo" of the Bruins' Fab Four freshman class, the happy-go-lucky big fella from Georgia. At 6 feet 9, 275 pounds, he was the muscle to complement Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad.

He was also the homesick kid who seemed ready to return to Georgia, which he expressed in a pre-Christmas tweet. Now, he says everything is fine and that he is "cool with UCLA."

He was the guy supplying teasers that Coach Ben Howland hopes are more than just previews of coming attractions. Against Oregon State, he blocked a shot at one end and converted a layup at the other. He finished with four points and two blocked shots in a four-minute first-half cameo.

People are now asking if Parker is the missing piece for a team that desperately needs a physical inside presence.

"Every team has one of those guys," Parker said. "The [Chicago] Bulls had Dennis Rodman. Oklahoma City has Kendrick Perkins. The Lakers have Ron Artest. You have to have those type of players on the floor."

The Bruins don't at the moment; others do.

UCLA (15-4 overall, 5-1 in Pac-12 play) wanders into Tucson tonight to face sixth-ranked Arizona, a team with young big men making large contributions. The Wildcats (16-1, 4-1) have 7-foot Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-10 Grant Jerrett and 6-8 Brandon Ashley, all freshmen.

UCLA has Parker but has mostly been using Travis Wear and David Wear at center. Both are 6-10, but they have been mostly working outside in.

"Tony has tools that my brother and I don't," Travis Wear said. "He's got that big body. He's more of a post presence."

Parker is the only big body left on the roster. Center Anthony Stover was dismissed for academic reasons last summer. Center Joshua Smith quit and took his healthy appetite to Georgetown in November.

That left Parker.

"There is so much for these guys to learn," Howland said. "I think sometimes it's even tougher on big young guys. Tony will tell you the physicality that is allowed at our level compared to high school is night and day."

Actually, Parker doesn't say much.

He was upbeat on arrival but now seemingly finds conversation a chore.

Parker is guarded, then pleasant. There is a wall, then there is a smile. He gives one-word answers to questions about his future, then waxes poetic about playing on the college level.

The apprehension can be traced to his Twitter post in December in which he said, "A lot of [people] told me this wasn't for me. I wish I would've listened."

But asked if he was going to reevaluate his situation after the season, Parker said "No."

Howland speaks highly of Parker, touching on his attitude (great), his parents (great) and the belief that there are no off-court issues.

As for Parker the player, Howland said: "He is really growing. I am really excited about his progress and where he's headed."

The Bruins need Parker to get there soon, something that was clear in a 76-67 loss to Oregon on Saturday.

The Ducks' Arsalan Kazemi turned offensive rebounds into points, including a basket to give the Ducks a 64-61 lead. Tony Woods had consecutive dunks on post moves to push Oregon's lead to 70-61.

Parker played three minutes, finishing with two rebounds and one blocked shot.

"I hope to get him a few more minutes if he keeps going the way he is," Howland said. "He gave us good minutes off the bench against Oregon in the first half. He probably should have played more minutes in the second half."

This has been a familiar refrain from Howland in recent weeks. But Parker has not played more than six minutes in a game since playing eight against Fresno State on Dec. 22. He is averaging 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds.

Though Parker shows flashes — he swatted a shot by Oregon's Ben Carter on Saturday — he more often appears uncomfortable.

Injuries have played a part in slowing Parker's journey. It was a hamstring in July and a sprained foot in August. He has dealt with recurring back spasms since November.

Parker says he is now fit and ready. But for what, he won't say.

Asked if he sees a role he can fill, he said, "It's not really what I think. It's all on the coaches. That would be a great question for Coach Howland."

Howland does see a role, eventually.

"Tony is just learning how to be physical," Howland said. "That wasn't part of his game when he got here. There so many little things he is doing for the first time, like setting hard screens."

This would be considered a normal learning curve for a freshman. But Parker is part of a freshman class that put expectations on the top shelf.

Adams, Anderson and Muhammad all start. Parker sits.

"He is not used to that," Muhammad said. "In high school he played the entire game. He'll figure it out."

Muhammad sees it in practice, saying "You try to box him out, he's going to break your legs."

Parker said the other freshmen "tell me to keep my head up," but he retreats when asked about the difficulty of watching his peers while he waits.

"Sitting out is always terrible," Parker said. "I just do what I can."

And what can he do?

"Protect the basket and get rebounds," Parker said.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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