Opportunity is knocking for Tony Parker.
At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Parker is UCLA’s lone true big man — an asset that, if developed, would solve one of the Bruins’ most glaring woes. He’s yet to become that frontcourt salve, a combination of poor health and inconsistent play keeping him off the floor.
That changed a bit Sunday, as he pick-and-rolled his way to eight first-half points in a 75-59 win at USC. When UCLA tips off against Arizona State at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, the freshman will get another chance to earn minutes.
“It’s just teaching him to play with physicality,” coach Ben Howland said. “He’s got a great lower body. He’s got good strength. He’s got good hands.”
The downsides? His defense, while improving, isn’t where it should be. He dribbles too often in the low post, giving opposing defenders a chance to block his shot. His conditioning isn’t quite there, and the game can still slow down.
Parker has only logged double-digit minutes seven times this season, but his potential tantalizes — so much so that he often draws cheers when he gets off the bench.
Point guard Larry Drew II said after the win at the Galen Center that he always tells Parker to roll hard on picks — something the forward/center finally did with success against the Trojans.
He’s also been the subject of much speculation, especially as some fans yearned for Howland to give him more minutes. Homesick earlier this season, the Georgia native had tweeted right before Christmas: “A lot of (people) told me this wasn’t for me I wish I would’ve listened.” He later told ESPN he wasn’t sure if he would stay beyond the season.
Coming off his best performance in conference play, he said Tuesday that he feels fine and is having fun.
“He finally got to play,” star freshman Shabazz Muhammad said. “I knew that game was coming for him. We told him, ‘You’re gonna play about 20 minutes.’ He went out and played really hard. Tony’s such a big body and he finally used it against SC. It was really hard for them to get over him.”
With junior forward Travis Wear still sidelined by a sprained foot, the Bruins’ young big man may be thrown against 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski in the low post. The Arizona State center averages 3.7 blocks per game, but has played inconsistently since erupting for 22 points and 15 rebounds against UCLA in a 78-60 loss.
Parker said that game was anomalous, but added that going up against Bachynski will be a challenge.
“It is, but it works in my favor because he’s tall and long,” said Parker, who picked up two fouls in 13 minutes against the Sun Devils last month and missed both his shots. “I’m short and I’m kind of wider. It’s easier going to be easier for me than it is for him.”