- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
LITHONIA, Ga. -- UCLA added another big piece to one of the nation's top college basketball recruiting classes Monday when ESPN 100 center Tony Parker joined the Bruins.
Parker (Lithonia/Miller Grove), the No. 26 overall prospect in the ESPN 100 and No. 7 center, picked the Bruins over a list of finalists that included Ohio State, Duke, Georgia, Kansas and Memphis.
The four-star prospect's decision pushes UCLA ahead of Kentucky to take over the No. 1 recruiting ranking among 2012 classes nationally.
"I just thought UCLA was the perfect place for me to get better, be successful," Parker said at the end of an hour-long ceremony at which he announced his decision. "With the prestigious open run that they have in the summertime, I just thought UCLA would be a great place. I have three great guys recruiting me in Kyle Anderson, Shabazz (Muhammad) and Jordan (Adams)."
The Bruins' class jumped from No. 12 to No. 3 in ESPN's team rankings two weeks ago when Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 150, joined Anderson (Fairview, N.J./St. Anthony), the No. 5 player, and Adams (Lawrenceville, Ga./Oak Hill Academy), No. 41, among UCLA signees.
Now the Bruins add a McDonald's All-American in Parker, who led Miller Grove to four straight Georgia state titles and averaged 16.6 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior.
"I think they can contend to be the No. 1 class in the country now," Miller Grove coach Sharman White said. "You've got Kentucky who's got a strong class, but this group that they got has got a little bit of everything. It's pretty good. It's right there. If not No. 1, I'd definitely say it's 1 or 2."
UCLA hopes the group will collectively make an immediate impact -- and Parker said that was one of the determining factors in joining the Bruins instead of signing with Duke, Ohio State or Georgia, the other three schools whose caps were positioned on the table in front of him at the ceremony before he chose the UCLA cap and opened his jacket and revealed a UCLA T-shirt.
"Duke, Ohio State and UGA: Those three schools were right behind. I love (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski), I love what he had going, but I just thought UCLA was a better fit for me and the people I was coming in with," Parker said. "Ohio State, it doesn't get no better for a big man there. But I just thought I would have to work harder at UCLA and would probably come in with more of a chip on my shoulder."
Aided by its proximity and the attraction of playing with Miller Grove teammate Brandon Morris, who committed last fall, Georgia made a late push to acquire Parker's services. He said he did not feel pressured to stay close to home, however.
"I really don't think there would have been any pressure at all to stay home, be around the people you've been around and just be a hometown hero," Parker said. "I don't think that's pressure. I think that's kind of the easy way out. If you go somewhere far, that's pressure. I think I'm probably coal and I'll be a diamond by the time I get to UCLA."
After reaching the NCAA tournament in five consecutive seasons with coach Ben Howland -- including three straight Final Fours and one trip to the national championship game -- the Bruins have missed the tournament in two of the last three years. Last season they finished in the middle of the pack in a mediocre Pac-12, at 19-14 overall and 11-7 in conference play.
However, UCLA is poised to return to national prominence quickly after adding four top-50 prospects.
UCLA assistant coach Korey McCray, hired last summer by Howland to help recruit out of state, was Parker's AAU coach with the Atlanta Celtics before taking the UCLA job. McCray played a vital role in recruiting Parker and Adams, another former Atlanta Celtics player. Parker is also close with Muhammad and Anderson, who said they had been working hard on getting Parker to UCLA.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Parker will add a post punch to the class' dynamic tandem of Muhammad, a super athletic scorer, and Anderson, an inside-outside threat. And White said Parker will bring intangibles to the group of freshmen, which already had bonded at All-Star games and summer camps before deciding to sign together.
"Tony brings a stability. He brings a calming force to the two, those guys, and I think they're going to jell well together," White said. "I've seen them together at the Jordan Game and I've seen them at the Nike Skills Academy that I worked and I can see those guys jelling really well. They've already started bonding and I think Tony's like the glue."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Peter Yoon is included in this report.