GAINESVILLE — The longer, less coiffed hair isn't the only thing that's different about Chandler Parsons. In fact, it's the least of the changes that jump out at you when he steps onto the court for the Florida basketball team.
For the past two seasons, Parsons has struggled to cultivate a complete game. When the forward's shots were falling, he struggled on defense. And when he tried to hone his defensive game, his offense fell off.
So this past offseason, Parsons said, he recognized that he hadn't truly bought into the importance of playing all-out defense in games, and he decided that would be one of many areas he'd strive to improve upon.
The result has been a much more aggressive defender and a more complete player.
"My rebounding and defense," Parsons said when asked where he feels most improved. "I feel like I'm a lot more reliable defender and playing a lot better help defense. I think it's probably conditioning. Last year I would kind of settle on some possessions and not go to the offensive glass. And this year, every single time I'm going to the offensive glass, and even if the ball is not bouncing to me on that possession, I have faith that it's going to the next time. So I'll just keep going every time."
A former Jordan All-American and Class 5A all-state player from Casselberry, the 6-foot-9 junior is averaging 10.7 points and is the second-leading rebounder (behind Alex Tyus' 6.9) with 6.4 per game. He has led the Gators in scoring three times.
With the improved play has come a noticeable confidence in Parsons, and nobody is happier than coach Billy Donovan.
"It was one of those things where he probably came in as a freshman disillusioned a little bit in terms of how easy it was going to be or what he could do," Donovan said. "He had a good, solid freshman year, and then I think the expectation part from himself, what he thought he was going to be as a sophomore, was a humbling experience for him.
"The biggest thing with Chandler right now to me is that he's just playing really hard, he's going to the glass, he's doing physical things, he's trying to do things that are really impacting our team," Donovan added. "Maybe as much as anybody I've coached, there's been some really positive growth and development of Chandler over the last two years. I've got a lot of confidence in him. I'm really, really happy for him that he's got a better understanding of what goes into being a successful, good player. He's always been a hard worker, but I don't think he's had a true understanding his first couple of years of what it's all about. I think he's got a much better comprehension of that now."
Parsons was a spark off the bench for the first 16 games but got his first start last week against LSU after senior Dan Werner missed most of the week with the flu. Parsons scored 11 in 27 minutes then started again in Thursday's win over Arkansas (six points but 11 rebounds in 31 minutes). Donovan said he plans to leave Parsons in the starting lineup tonight.
Chandler and the Gators will host South Carolina tonight, less than 48 hours after their win at Arkansas. Donovan made the unusual decision to remain in Fayetteville on Thursday after the game, returning Friday afternoon, to maximize his players' opportunity to rest.
"The only thing I can liken this to is when we were in New Jersey and we played back-to-back games against Michigan and Rutgers," Donovan said. "We've had some games where we've had just a day in-between, but it was two home games. It is what it is, and we've got to do the best job we can at preparing in the short period of time that we have."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.