- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Right now, Arizona looks like the Pac-12’s leader. But the young Wildcats could face competition from Oregon, Colorado and UCLA, the league’s defending champion.
The latter features new coach Steve Alford and lacks former star Shabazz Muhammad, who turned pro. The Bruins, however, have a promising crew.
A key component in that potential is Tony Parker, a former McDonald’s All-American. Parker was a member of the top-rated recruiting class that joined the program last season. But he failed to match the hype mostly because he couldn’t stay in shape.
He averaged just 2.4 PPG and registered 6.3 MPG last year. Not exactly the numbers most anticipated from a player ranked 26th in a talented 2012 class.
Per Alford, Parker has worked hard to erase last season’s shortcomings and prepare for a bigger role in 2013-14. That bigger role, however, will be played by a slimmer Parker.
“Well, Tony’s had a really good offseason,” Alford told ESPN.com on Monday. “He’s lost 20, 25 pounds. I think he’s built a lot of confidence by seeing what that does. He’s moving better, he’s in better condition. He’s making plays now because he’s in shape. So I think because of all that he’s kind of rededicated to the game, and he’s built some confidence. Hopefully that momentum carries forward because he’s a very good low-post threat but he’s learned to move out. He can knock down the 15-foot shot. Now he’s defending much better because he’s lost the weight.”
Parker, who weighed 275 pounds last year, could be a critical player for the Bruins. The Wear twins (David and Travis) are two of the top bigs in the league. But Parker’s production would be a boost for a group that dealt with multiple injuries last season.
He was a star for Miller Grove High School in Lithonia, Ga. But there were concerns about stamina and conditioning throughout the 6-foot-9 forward’s prep career. “If you could get his motor to run at an extra-high level, Parker could be a terror on the glass,” said the RecruitingNation scouting report on the young star.
But Alford said he expects Parker to give the Bruins more quality minutes this season, something he didn’t do last year.
“We hope [the weight loss] has a dramatic impact because we’re not deep up front. But if we stay healthy, we’ve got the talent,” Alford said. “Tony is a winner and he competes that way. Now that his body is changing and his confidence is high ... now it’s just a much better product.”