Experience is priceless in college basketball, which is why the Florida Gators have to be considered a legit threat to make another Final Four run and possibly contend for a national championship in 2010-11.
Florida is returning its entire starting five from last season, a group that won 21 games and earned an NCAA Tournament berth: Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin.
Parsons is the leader of the Gators. A 6-10 senior small forward who averaged 12.4 points and 6.9 rebounds last season — and knocked down buzzer-beating shots to win games against N.C. State and South Carolina — he is on the radar of NBA teams and everyone in the SEC.
*** *** ***
Dime: How’s your summer been?
Chandler Parsons: My summer was great. I spent a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger and faster. I also traveled to Greece for two weeks and worked out with Nick Calathes (former high school and UF teammate). I also played very well at the Kevin Durant and the LeBron James Skills Academy this summer.
Dime: You’re one of the most versatile players in college basketball. Have you been working on any specifics of your game this offseason?
CP: Being 6-10, I want to be able to do everything, from scoring to defending, my handles, my passing, posting up, rebounding, and playing at the point. I work on my handles every day against pressure, along with two-ball dribbling and putting up a lot of shots so I can become a knock-down shooter. I want to continue to get stronger so I can post up smaller guys, and when they put some size on me, I work on my quickness and try to beat them off the dribble to create my own shot.
Dime: After Nick left Florida, how did you feel about having to step up and become the new leader of the team?
CP: Nick had a great opportunity for him and his family, and it was different at first playing without him. I learned to lead — vocally and physically — and had to learn how to create my own shot and not just rely on Nick to get me good looks because of his passing abilities.
Dime: Tell me what went through your mind after hitting those two buzzer-beaters last season?
CP: The buzzer-beaters were unreal. The N.C. State shot was a miracle. I was truly blessed on that shot and it was an unbelievable feeling to get a win over a quality team like that on the road. At home versus South Carolina was awesome because it was a huge game for our season and it was at home. It was definitely one of the best feelings I have ever had as a player and I was fortunate enough to have my parents at both of those games.
Dime: How did it feel to make your first NCAA Tournament last season as a Gator?
CP: Getting to the tournament was great. We have much higher goals this season as a team and are not content on just getting there. I think we got a good taste of what it’s like going into double-overtime (versus BYU) and losing.
Dime: With a returning starting five, you guys are the favorites to win the SEC East. As a team, what needs to be accomplished?
CP: We have a great nucleus coming back. I think we have the best starting five in the country, and we also have great depth and size coming off the bench. We need to just become the best team we can become and work each day and not let expectations get to our head. But I do have very high expectations and think we have a chance to be special.
Dime: What do you think about the recent news of Austin Rivers choosing Duke over Florida?
CP: Austin going to Duke really doesn’t affect me. He thought that was the best place to pursue his career. I’ve known his family for a very long time and wish him the best of luck.
Dime: With incoming players like Patric Young, Casey Prather, (2011 commit) Brad Beal, and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, what does the future of Florida basketball look like?
CP: Florida’s future in basketball is bright. Guys like Erik Murphy, Young, and Prather are going to be really good. Cody Larson and Will Yeguete also bring size and energy every day and will be valuable. Mike will definitely make some noise once he’s eligible and I expect Florida to be a contender for years to come.
Dime: This is your final year as a Gator. Looking back, what’s your favorite memory?
CP: My favorite memory will be playing for Coach (Billy) Donovan and playing in front of the Rowdy Reptiles. Also playing alongside some great guys for four years and making a huge run this upcoming season.