Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, two of the best freshmen in the Pac-12, average 36.2 combined points. Kyle Anderson isn’t as dangerous a scorer, but ranks sixth in the conference in rebounds and seventh in assists.
Left out of the celebration is Tony Parker, who — his development hampered by injuries and lack of playing time — has actually become less-featured since junior center Josh Smith transferred out in late November. In his past five games, the 6-foot-9 freshman has played a total of 20 minutes. His 2.8 points and 1.4 rebounds rank lowest among the team’s eight scholarship players.
Two days before Christmas, Parker tweeted: “A lot of (people) told me this wasn’t for me I wish I would’ve listened.” He told ESPN recently that there is no rift between himself and head coach Ben Howland, and a large part of his dissatisfaction is also due to being over 3,000 miles away from his home in Georgia. Parker added that he isn’t sure whether he will return to UCLA next season, and had no comment when asked if he regrets his commitment.
“Tony has been great,” Howland said when asked about Parker’s unhappiness on Tuesday. “Tony, like I said, had a great practice today. I was really excited about it, especially for him to be healthy. His health thing has been a real tough thing for him. … He’s a kid who’s got a great work ethic and disposition.”
Bothered by back spasms at different points this season, Parker started working with a yoga instructor this week to relieve the pain. Kent Katich, who works full-time with the Los Angeles Clippers, has long trained former Bruins such as Jordan Farmar and Kevin Love — still a current client.
“The last few days of practice, Tony has been looking really great coming off yoga,” said freshman Jordan Adams, who will start the regimen next week too.
Among the other conditions that have plagued Parker: migraines, a sprained ankle, and an injured hamstring back in July. Recently, Katich also noticed issues with Parker’s gait, a result of a broken toe he suffered in high school.
When he makes it on the court, Parker usually finds himself in foul trouble. He is averaging 9.9 fouls per 40 minutes — the Pac-12’s worst mark. Smith averaged 6.4 through six games before he transferred, but the next-highest rate of any current Bruin is forward Travis Wear’s 3.2 fouls.
Still, Howland has seen improvements in Parker’s game, and expects — or hopes — the 275-pound teen will prove capable of a larger role soon.
“He was beating up Travis today and that’s how he has to play,” Howland said. “Tony coming in here, it wasn’t part of him to be physical and knock people around like you think it would be with his body.
“He’s learning to do that now and that’s really effective for him because he is strong and he has the ability to be very physically tough.”