TAMPA — During the lost years, back when Chandler Parsons was busy being a disappointment, all of this seemed very far away.
He didn't get it, if you want to know the truth. He had arrived on campus with all the answers, and he did not listen, and he did not learn. He was one of those entitled players, certain that his stardom was predestined, and by golly, Parsons wasn't going to have to break a sweat to accomplish it. He was stubborn, and he was exasperating, and, for a while, he was less than anyone expected him to be.
That was before Florida coach Billy Donovan offered to hold the door open for him to leave.
From that point on, excellence was born, and a program and a player begin to reclaim their reputations.
For Parsons, and for the Gators, the comeback began then, in the aftermath of a heart-to-heart (or boot-to-buttocks, if you prefer) conversation between a frustrated Donovan and a frustrating Parsons. It was then that the player began to reclaim his reputation, and then that the program began to do the same.
Now, they share success, Parsons and the Gators. Parsons has been the SEC player of the year, and Donovan the SEC coach of the year, and together, they have earned the No. 2 seed in the Southeast bracket of the NCAA Tournament. These days, news conferences sound like one of those Academy Award speeches where everyone thanks everyone else and dismisses the hard times.
Ah, but it wasn't always like that. For a long time, Parsons was an untamed colt, refusing to buy into Donovan's system, barely paying attention to defense. He was a shooter, and he was sure that was going to be enough to succeed.
The thing about college basketball, however, is that the easier a player thinks it will be to be a star, the harder it becomes. In the case of Parsons, it was a turbulent journey.
At the end of his freshman year, for instance, Donovan locked the practice facility on his team to point out that they weren't the players who had earned the championship trophies. Donovan wouldn't even let the players use their practice uniforms.
"That was unbelievable," Parsons said. "Having to go to practice at high schools or at Florida gym in your own basketball shorts, maybe no shirt, three times a day and doing your own laundry. It was miserable. But it really made us tougher, and it got us more together."
A year later, however, Donovan and Parsons had a meeting. Maybe Florida wasn't the right place for Parsons, after all, said Donovan.
"The thing about Coach Donovan, he challenges players," Parson said, grinning at the memory. "There was a time in my career he really put my back against the wall. I had to make a change and buy into his system, or I could have taken the easy way out and gone somewhere else. I think he said, 'If you don't change your ways, I don't think this is the right place for you. Basically, you can start looking somewhere else.'
"I told him I want to stay, and that I was going to change. I'll do whatever it takes for our team to win. I respect coach for trying to get the best out of me. Him pushing me the hardest got me to where I am today."
Where Parsons will be today is at the St. Pete Times Forum, leading his team into the NCAA Tournament. After all, Parsons has always been a mirror of his team. They have been disappointing together, and they have been embarrassed together, and now, they have one final run in them.
Parsons is one of the most versatile players in the tournament. He is stronger than he was, he can shoot, he's a fierce rebounder and he can handle the ball like a guard. But the best attribute Parsons has is resiliency. Not many players overcome those "be good or be gone" conversations.
"Chandler had a lot of skill and a lot of ability and a lot of talent," Donovan says. "I just never, ever thought he utilized it the right way. There were some things I was trying to get across to him to help him understand, to grow and get better as a player.
"I don't want to say he was reluctant. He was never reluctant, and he was always respectful, but he thought he had a lot more answers at 18 that he realized he didn't have.
"I don't think he ever really understood what it was all about."
Parsons thought it was going to be easy. Looking back, Parsons admits that now. He signed with Florida after the Gators had won two national championships, and he thought he would fit in and have the same impact he had in high school.
Instead, it takes 10,000 jump shots and tons of iron moved in the weight room and endless conditioning to become a star.
Sometimes, it also takes the right approach.
Say this for Parsons. Eventually, he figured it out. Eventually, he made Donovan glad he stayed.