Parsons skyrockets as Houston misses playoffs

Former Florida Gators forward Chandler Parsons played the best game of his young career at just the right time on Sunday but unfortunately for him and his team it was not enough to prevent the Houston Rockets from falling below the qualifying line for the 2012 NBA Playoffs following a 97-88 loss in Miami, FL.

Parsons, who started his 57th game of the season, scored a career-high 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting in 37 minutes. He added six rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block as he showcased the variety of ways in which he can impact the game.

The 2011-12 season has been a whirlwind for Parsons, who entered the league as a second-round pick without necessarily the same high level of expectations that first-round selections are naturally encumbered with by fans. However, he has been a big-time contributor and often an impact player for Houston this season.

Parsons has posted five 20+ point games, achieved two double-doubles (in consecutive games in late March) and registered a number of impressive highlights including dunks and buzzer-beating three-pointers that have made both fans and basketball decision-makers recognize his ability.

“It’s been incredible – me being a basketball and NBA fan my whole life growing up, it’s so surreal to play against these guys let alone playing really good against them,” Parsons told OGGOA last week when asked about his recent highlights against Kobe Bryant. “I’ve had a great year. I’ve had fun doing it. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. It would be real special to be a key factor on a team contributing going to the playoffs as a rookie. That would be unbelievable and would really top off my year.”

Though Parsons will not have that icing for his rookie cake and is not expected to be seriously considered for Rookie of the Year honors, his contributions this season were impressive nonetheless. He even realizes that with some improved consistency (.452 from the field, .337 from three, .551 from the line in 2011-12) he can become a major player in the league going forward.

“I just got to keep working hard and get better,” he said.

Photo Credit: Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

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FOUR BITS: Hodge, Tebow, Young, Wilkerson

1 » Former Florida Gators guard Walter Hodge was named Most Valuable Player of the Polish Basketball League (English translation) on Friday. Hodge, who plays for Zastalu Zielona Gora in the nation’s top basketball league, received nine-of-14 MVP votes from the PBL’s coaches.

2 » New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez told the New York Post on Thursday that everything is going swimmingly so far with QB Tim Tebow in the team’s offseason program. “He’s been as advertised, as good of a guy, if not better, than anybody said,” he explained. “So, he’s been a great addition so far. I’m thrilled to work with him. From a competitor standpoint, he’s great. He’s what you want in an offseason program – working hard, competing with the guy in the weight room. […] It’s been a good transition and Tim’s been great.” It will be interesting to see if Sanchez holds those same opinions once Tebow starts competing with him for the starting job.

3 » Florida sophomore center Patric Young has been participating in some tough offseason workouts with his teammates and has been making the details known on Twitter recently. On Friday he posted a video of a four-minute portion of the workouts complete with Young lifting a keg, flipping a tire and pushing a pick-up truck.

4 » The Southeastern Conference announced this week that it has created a SEC Baseball Legends program for the sport after already having one in existence for football and basketball. In conjunction with the announcement, the league will honor one player from each member institution at the upcoming SEC Tournament from May 22-27. Former Gators first baseman/outfielder/pitcher Brad Wilkerson will be Florida’s first inductee (and deservingly so). The Gators have also decided to honor Wilkerson’s multiple inductions this year (he will join the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in June) during Friday’s game against Georgia at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The contest begins at 7 p.m. and airs live on Comcast Sports South.

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Former Gators offer advice as Beal preps for draft

In just over two months Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal will take the stage in New York, NY, shake commissioner David Stern’s hand and put on a hat representing the team that selected him early in the 2012 NBA Draft.

But before that day arrives, Beal must first hire an agent, attend league-affiliated events and take part in private workouts and interviews with interested teams. OGGOA spoke with three former Florida players the day Beal announced his decision to go pro and each was quick to offer plenty of advice for him as he takes the next step in his career.

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and second highest-drafted UF player in school history (Neal Walk, No. 2), actually spoke with Beal while he was in the process of making his decision and said that no matter what he decided to do he had to concentrate each day on doing whatever it takes to improve as a player both on and off the court.

“I had a chance to speak with him right after the season,” Horford said. “He is very, very talented, so my advice to him was just to focus on working on his game and to make sure he got stronger. The most important thing is just to keep working and keep getting better because he has a lot of potential. He showed some positive things throughout the season, but he has a lot more to offer in the long run if he can get there.”

Horford did not attempt to influence Beal’s final decision one way or another and pointed out that the sharpshooter’s game may even be at a higher level than even his was after his sophomore season.

“He was asking me what I thought about his situation as far as him having to make a decision about whether to stay or go. I went through that experience. For me it worked out that I stuck around another year and I was able to get better,” he explained.

“He’s very talented, so I think that he was way ahead of what everybody would expect from a freshman. He’s a guard, and I told him that if it is something you want to do to then go for it. He could have stayed in school and worked on his game, but he’s talented enough to go to the NBA. With hard work and everything, he will be a good player in this league.”

Continue Reading » Former Gators offer advice as Beal preps for draft

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TWO BITS: Walker’s taco, Bennett’s list, Swamp

1 » Former Florida Gators point guard Erving Walker pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor petit theft and was ordered to pay a $301 fine on Thursday after the State Attorney’s Office agreed to drop all charges against him. According to The Gainesville Sun the judge also withheld adjudication for Walker meaning he was not officially convicted of the crime. Walker was arrested and charged after allegedly stealing a taco worth $3 from a street vendor in downtown Gainesville, FL. “It was just a silly mistake,” he said, according to ESPN.com. “I apologize to everybody. I’m embarrassed about it. That’s not me. I’m just trying to put it behind me and move on.”

2 » Five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) is down to four. According to SNY.tv, Bennett has eliminated Washington from his finalists and is now down to Florida, Kentucky, Oregon and UNLV. He plans to cut one more school by next week and pay visits to the three finalists before sitting down and making a decision in early May. Ryan Greene of RunRebs.com adds that Bennett and Gators head coach Billy Donovan had “a lengthy sit-down” on Wednesday. Florida is believed to be Bennett’s leader but has a back-up plan in center Bradley Hayes should the former player not commit. UF has not offered Hayes a scholarship yet as the school is first waiting on a decision from Bennett.

Extra BIT » Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is currently undergoing yet another face lift as the West Concourse is being renovated and improved. The project should be completed in July 2012 but GatorVision.tv provided a video update this week which includes some renderings of and more information on the project.

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SIX BITS: Gaffney, Hill, Hayes, Spurrier, Meyer

1 » Former Florida Gators wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, currently employed by the Washington Redskins but in danger of being cut before the season, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Wednesday that head coach Mike Shanahan specifically told him not to report to camp and to see if his agent can find another team for him prior to the draft. “I talked to Mike Shanahan myself. He is the one that told me I don’t have to come up there until two weeks from now when they start installing the offense. So that is why I’m not at voluntary workouts,” he said. “I am working out in Florida now though. Shanahan told me that I can take this time and let my agent see if he can find a better situation for me. So they are pretty much telling me that myself or Santana Moss are going to have to go. I want people to know that I told Shanahan myself that I want to be a Redskin, but if I can’t then of course there are options I would like.”

2 » In the latest Rivals150 for the 2013 basketball recruiting class released on Monday, Florida gained a five-star commitment and top-10 overall prospect. Point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), listed as a four-star recruit and the No. 27 player overall a few weeks ago, has added another star to his designation and moved up 19 spots to No. 8 overall. Teammates with UF commitment and 2012 four-star shooting guard Michael Frazier (Clermont, FL) at both Montverde Academy and on the Florida Rams AAU team, Hill has been turning a lot of heads recently with his play.

3 » Speaking of basketball recruiting, the Gators are still waiting to hear a decision from five-star 2012 power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV), who is still meeting with coaches and taking visits before making a decision in early May. In the meantime, head coach Billy Donovan has been in hot pursuit of center Bradley Hayes (Jacksonville, FL). Unrated and raw, Hayes’s size (6’11”, 250 lbs.) and potential has intrigued Florida’s coach. The Gators have yet to offer him a scholarship as the team wants to hear a final decision before doing so, but it has been widely reported that Hayes likely favors staying in-state and playing for UF. He told SNY’s Adam Zagoria on Wednesday that Florida is in his final four along with Connecticut, Georgetown and Texas A&M. “I like their coach,” he said of the Gators. “I like coach straight up. He wants the best, and I want to be the best.” Donovan is set to watch Hayes play in Pittsburgh, PA over the weekend.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Gaffney, Hill, Hayes, Spurrier, Meyer

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Jenkins, Brewer, Thomas

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was named Wednesday to TIME Magazine’s 2012 list of The 100 Most Influential People in the World. Tebow can be found among names like President Barack Obama, Warren Buffett, Louis CK and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, who penned a few paragraphs on Tebow.

Watching Tim Tebow play football, you can observe many things about his character. You see his fierce competitiveness, his strong work ethic and how he is a leader that his teammates trust and respect.

But it is the qualities that Tim, 24, embodies in his life off the field that truly set him apart. He is unashamed of his convictions and faith, and he lives a life that consistently reflects his values, day in and day out. Through his foundation, he constantly reaches out to people and communities in need of hope. He realizes what he has been blessed with and seeks to help those who are worse off. As athletes, we pour our hearts into winning games. Tim is a reminder that life is about much more than that.

2 » Denying reports that he continued smoking marijuana after being dismissed by Florida, cornerback Janoris Jenkins is emphatic that he has turned the corner in both his life and career. “I wasn’t smoking marijuana at North Alabama,” he told Scout.com’s Aaron Wilson. “If anybody wants to know, they can give my coaches a call. I wasn’t partying. They’ve been saying a lot of things about me that aren’t true without getting my side of the story. It’s been a humbling experience. You’ve got to be a man; you’ve got to be honest and straightforward. I’ve matured. My past is my past. People can judge me for how far I’ve come. I want to know why all of a sudden this is out there about me. Why didn’t it come out after the combine when I was straightforward with the scouts? The timing is very interesting to me.”

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Tebow, Jenkins, Brewer, Thomas

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Al Horford cleared for contact, hopes to return

On the shelf since early January after tearing his left pectoral muscle, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford said Friday that it is “realistic” to believe that he would be able to return to the team before the NBA Playoffs begin in May.

“I’m feeling better and better each week, which is very positive,” he told OGGOA in an exclusive interview on Friday. “I’m spending all my time in rehab doing a lot of stretches to get my range of motion better. It’s realistic that I could be back for the playoffs.

“It’s all about for me getting back that conditioning and the basketball part of it and getting comfortable playing again. That’s the biggest thing. In a normal season you would have time to prepare, start practicing and get ready for a game. When I go and play, I’m actually going to have to go in and actually play. I’m not going to have any time to practice or anything. I’m remaining positive and hoping that I can come back for the playoffs.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that Horford has now taken a major step toward that goal after being cleared by the team’s medical staff to participate in contract drills.

The torn pectoral is the first major injury that Horford has suffered in his career. Despite being unable to help his team in games or during practice, he told OGGOA that he has found a way to turn a big negative into something of a positive for him going forward.

“I definitely think about that a lot,” he said. “I just have taken this time and looked at it in a positive way. My whole thing is that I want to be able to come back from this better than I was before. I feel like I’m able to appreciate the game a little more.

“Being off of the court, my whole thing was to really focus in on myself and get better and grow as a player. That’s where I’ve put my energy and my efforts towards, and that’s why I feel pretty good where I’m at now. I can honestly tell you that I never felt depressed or down for not being with the team or not playing. I feel like I just put all this into perspective and tried to make a positive from it and just improve as a player.”

Currently the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta is set to face No. 4 seed Boston in first-round action. Both teams have five games left to play in the regular season so their seedings and opponents could change in the next nine days.

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Donovan named head coach of USA Basketball

Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan has been selected to lead USA Basketball during the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship from June 16-20 in Brazil.

Donovan, a court coach during the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U19 National Team Training Camp last summer, will represent his country as a head coach in international competition for the first time in his career. He chose Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart (a former Florida assistant) and Gonzaga head coach Mark Few as assistants for his coaching staff.

“It’s always an honor to be selected to represent your country, and I’m incredibly thankful for this opportunity to be a part of USA Basketball,” he said in a statement released by the school. “I have great respect for Shaka Smart and Mark Few, and I’m looking forward to working alongside them.”

Donovan will begin coaching the team on June 5 in Colorado as training camp opens before narrowing the roster down to 12 prior to getting on a plane for Brazil.

It will be interesting to see if any of the Gators’ 2012 commitments join USA Basketball for training camp or make final cuts for the team.

Florida sophomores center Patric Young and point guard Scottie Wilbekin tried out for the U19 team in 2011 though only Young made the final cut.

The United States will go up against seven other teams (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands) in an attempt to win the tournament and qualify for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in June of next year. Donovan is not guaranteed to be the head coach of that team should USA Basketball advance.

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