Parker and Co. bring their winning ways

They say it’s darkest just before the dawn.

If that’s the case, get Ben Howland some shades, because things are looking pretty bright in Westwood.

After missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years last season, the UCLA basketball team continued its impressive offseason haul, picking up the commitment of No. 20-ranked prospect Tony Parker out of Miller Grove High in Lithonia, Geo., on Monday afternoon. Parker announced his intentions in front of a packed audience in a 45-minute ceremony, choosing the Bruins over Ohio State, Georgia and Duke.

Parker becomes the fourth member of a monster recruiting class for Howland, joining No. 2-ranked Shabazz Muhammad, No. 4 Kyle Anderson and No. 76 Jordan Adams, enough to secure UCLA either the No. 1 or No. 2 ranking from most top recruiting services.

“It is icing on the cake today to have Tony Parker join this recruiting class,” Howland said. “”He is a great player that has an unbelievable work ethic. I’m so excited for our program to have a quality big man like Tony join our team and Bruin family. ”

Parker joins a crowded frontcourt that includes returning juniors Joshua Smith, Anthony Stover, David and Travis Wear, but Howland insisted that he would battle for playing time early. With a backcourt that returns Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell and adds North Carolina transfer Larry Drew, the Bruins could jump into the preseason top-10.

“(Parker) is going to come in and compete right away for a starting position,” Howland said. “This thing is wide open. We have 11 on scholarship and each position will be contested. He’s competing for major minutes right away as a freshman.”

Parker’s commitment comes on the heels of Muhammad’s announcement that he would join the Bruins over Kentucky and Duke, and he is now the second signee largely credited to assistant coach Korey McCray. Both Parker and Adams played on McCray’s Atlanta Celtics AAU team, and Howland gave McCray, whom he hired before last season, his due.

“No question; Korey McCray has done an incredible job recruiting both Jordan Adams and Tony Parker from his home state,” Howland said. “Were he not on staff we wouldn’t have gotten either one of those kids.”

Howland highlighted the foursome’s winning ways in high school, as the group combined to go 128-13 last season. Adams led Oak Hill Academy to a 44-0 record, Muhammad guided Bishop Gorman to a Nevada state title, Anderson went 65-0 in his final two seasons at famed St. Anthony’s in New Jersey and Parker became the first player to win four Georgia state championships, taking home the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mr. Basketball honors this season.

Howland knows that with the star-studded lineup comes increased expectations. He almost sounds relieved that they’re back.

“What’s the alternative to that?” Howland said. “That’s my answer to that. These are the kinds of problems we want to have. High expectations, we have those anyway. We’ve failed to meet the high expectations we’ve had for this program two of the last three years.”

(Additional Howland quotes after the jump:)

On the current team:
“Current team has done an incredible job with a whole new level of accountability. It’s been unbelievably well-received by our team. We know that with the infusion of these four players with the nucleus we have, we have a chance to be a really good team next year.”

On the character of the class:
“I have no doubt that this class is going to turn out to be a very special class when people look back on it. The thing that is really exciting to me is the quality of young men.”

On Pauley Pavilion:
“One of the huge draws was the new Pauley. Kids love it. Brand new facility, state of the art. It’s a huge thing for our program. I remember coach wooden telling me how it changed the program here for him. He called it the perfect storm. Lightning in a bottle. I’m not predicting any Woodenesque results – sorry guys – but my point is getting a brand new facility, which at one time was the mecca of college basketball, we’re definitely one of the best facilities in the country.”

On Muhammad’s eligibility:
“Regarding Shabazz, we’re going to work with whatever comes with that. Our compliance department has been in contact with the NCAA regarding any issues pertinent to his eligibility. We’ll be very supportive and do whatever we can.”