To fully appreciate the transformation Chandler Parsons has made from immature underclassman to senior leader, ask the Florida forward to share the story of one of the more embarrassing moments from his freshman year.
Several Florida players were discussing whether Tyler Hansbrough would develop into an effective NBA player when Parsons chimed in and scoffed at the North Carolina star's pro potential. Florida coach Billy Donovan overheard Parsons' comments and chastised him for his lack of respect.
"That was an example of my immaturity freshman year," Parsons recalled with a chuckle. "Coach Donovan didn't take that too lightly. He kind of went off on me. He told me he’d rather have one season from Hansbrough instead of four seasons from me."
Scoldings from Donovan and his staff were an everyday occurrence for Parsons during his first two seasons at Florida, but the versatile 6-foot-10 forward has since toned down his goofball personality enough to make it clear he's serious about winning.
He stopped being content as a spot-up shooter and worked harder to get stronger and to improve his ability to create off the dribble. He became such a film junkie that he wore out the pause and rewind buttons on his DVD player last season watching tape of his previous game or the Gators' next opponent. And he began paying attention to smaller details like moving without the ball on offense, positioning on defense and anticipating where a carom will go as a rebounder.
It's no coincidence that Parsons' transformation into an all-conference performer has mirrored Florida's evolution since Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer led the program to back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. After enduring rebuilding seasons in Parsons' first two seasons, the Gators fell in the first round of the NCAA tournament to BYU in double overtime last March and appear capable of challenging for the SEC East title and making a deep postseason run this year.
"It's a lot of motivation to finally win a game in the NCAA tournament because you dream of playing in March Madness as a kid," Parsons said. "Last year we got a good taste of getting there and we're not just content getting there this season. We want to make some noise and be the best team we can be."
There's no seminal moment that Parsons can point to for when he finally figured out what it would take to be successful, but there are several factors that he believes played a key role in the metamorphosis that began last season.
Point guard Nick Calathes' departure to play professionally in Greece made Parsons realize he could no longer play the role of sidekick and let his close friend and former high school and college teammate set him up for easy buckets. Furthermore, Donovan habitually reminded Parsons that the respectable 9.2 points and 5.7 rebounds he averaged as a sophomore were nowhere near his potential.
"My entire first two years here I used as motivation," Parsons said. "Coach Donovan really challenged me, put my back up against the wall and saw what I was made of. Honestly, I thank him for that. I never once wanted to transfer. I never once called my parents and complained. Every time he would come at me, I would use that as motivation to get better and keep working."
The new and improved Parsons showcased his versatility last season, effortlessly switching from the wing to the post in Florida's offense and occasionally even spelling Erving Walker when he needed a break at point guard. Parsons averaged career highs of 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists, also improving his field goal percentage three-point shooting and hitting a memorable game-winning jump shot to beat South Carolina and a buzzer-beating 70-footer to stun NC State.
It's obviously too soon to know whether Parsons will continue to blossom into a bonafide NBA prospect as a senior, but preliminary signs are definitely encouraging. He thrived at Kevin Durant's camp and LeBron James' camp this summer, more than holding his own against the likes of Kyle Singler, Harrison Barnes, Chris Singleton and other talented collegiate forwards.
"I felt like I played as good as anyone there," Parsons said. "You read about these guys like they read about me, and it was fun matching up with the best. I think I showed I can play with those guys, got good exposure from it and had a great time."
Whatever Parsons gained from that experience can only help a Florida team that returns its entire starting five from last year's NCAA tournament team. Walker and high-scoring Kenny Boyton form one of college basketball's most explosive backcourts, while veteran forwards Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin will be pushed for playing time by a frontcourt-heavy recruiting class headlined by McDonald's All-American Patric Young.
All that talent had Parsons dreaming big at Florida's media day last week when asked what his expectations for the upcoming season were. He told reporters his goal was to win a national championship, lofty aspirations for a senior who has yet to win his first NCAA tournament game.
"If you think about it, whose goal is not to win a national championship?" Parsons said when asked about his comments a few days later. "Everyone wants the same thing and everyone has the same dreams. We understand we're getting respect and the expectations are higher, but we can't let that go to our heads. We have to go out every day with the same humble and hungry mindset."
Sage advice from a senior who has grown up a lot and matured into a leader.