New strength program paying dividends for Tony Parker

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A star-studded prep career made Tony Parker one of the top 10 centers in 2013, but that resume did little for him once he got to college. UCLA’s 6-foot-9 freshman averaged just 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds, struggling with back spasms, a sprained ankle and strained hamstring. When the Georgia native did make it on the court (6.3 mpg), he often racked up quick fouls. He thought about transferring.

The return of strength coach Wes Long, who left UCLA for Wyoming in 2011, convinced Parker to stay — and has since helped him shed over 20 pounds.

Q: How has Wes Long worked with you, and how much has it helped?

We usually do a lot of, a whole lot of bike riding. I ride the bike after every workout. We’re starting to do a little more upper body, because we’re bulking up in the summer. In the spring, I lost about 22 pounds. He’s doing a lot, a whole lot. Me and Wes have a great relationship. It’s just a hard-work relationship. He really wants me to get better. I just feel the energy with him.

Q: How much do you weigh now?

257. The goal is 255, so I’ll probably get down two more pounds. I really like the weight I’m playing at right now. Wes did a great job working out with me. My nutritionist has done a great job, making sure I’m on track, making sure I’m eating right. It’s just a better focus on strength and conditioning, my body. That’s what gets me playing well.

Q: How does this compare to the strength and conditioning program you had last season?

You can kind of tell by looking at me that it’s a big difference. It’s just different. With strength and conditioning, either you got it or you don’t. You can’t — there’s no halfway. You have to have it or people will get hurt. And I got hurt.

Q: Have all your back spasms and other nagging injuries disappeared because you’ve gotten in shape?

Yeah, I really don’t have any problems at all. Period. That’s been great for me. I’m really feeling well. Our practices, they’ve really been going well and I’m really enjoying it.

Q: What other differences have you noticed with the new staff?

All I really notice is just the strength and conditioning. Basketball, it’s pretty much the same. There’s not much that will change with basketball. Little tweaks that a new coach will have, but it’s pretty much the same. Coach (Steve) Alford is just a great guy. He loves the game. He’s played the game, and you can really tell that he’s played recently. So it’s just good to have a coach who’s done what you want to do and it’s really good that he knows players. He’s a players’ coach and he’s a great guy.

Q: Have you talked at all about playing time or your role on the team?

No, not really. I know if I work my hardest, that won’t even be a problem. He doesn’t owe anybody anything. It’s different with him. It’s just going in, working hard and playing hard.

Q: What do you mean by different?

It’s just different. It’s different. He’s just, it’s just different.

Q: Are you gunning for a starting spot now, or even just a significant role?

If I’m going at the rate I’m going, I won’t have to gun for anything. It’s just going to be me playing my hardest, doing what I have to do to play.

Q: What was the hardest part for you going through last season?

It was hard, but I just feel like that was something God put me through to bring me down, really prepare myself for the next level. Really, really get to working. I felt like I needed that. I did everything in high school that you could possibly do as a high school player. I won state every year. McDonald’s All-American. Jordan Brand All-American. USA two-time gold medalist. Nike Hoops Summit. Jordan Brand Classic. I had done everything, so it was really good that I got that year to knock me down, humble me, get me prepared to be the best basketball player I can be. At this point in my life, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. I’m really focused on being in better shape and being a better basketball player.

Q: When you came to college, did you expect yourself to dominate the same way you did in high school?

When I came into college, I expected to have the same resources I had in high school. And I didn’t last year. It kind of knocked me off, and that’s when injuries came, and everything came. When you’re used to having something at a high level and it cuts off, your body doesn’t react well to it. Mine reacted terribly to it last year. I had a lot of nicks and bruises. Now that I have those resources, there’s no excuses for me.

Q: The nutritionist, was that something you had in high school too?

In high school, I had to drop weight a lot because I was always a big kid. In high school, I gradually dropped weight all the way up to my senior year. I had a great strength and conditioning program, a guy named Kevin Peoples who does a great job in Atlanta. I took him for granted. I could tell with his work, how much it affected my game, how much better it made me when I got to UCLA and I didn’t have him anymore.

Q: Was it because you weren’t used to having to keep tabs on yourself? That you always had someone to guide you?

In strength and conditioning, people tell you what to do. So it was more that the person I was working with really didn’t know as much as he (Kevin Peoples) did. Now, you have Wes Long, who probably knows as much or more, or they’re equal. It’s basically the same thing.

Q: How close were you to transferring?

It was really close. When Wes got here in the spring and we worked out, I knew I was going to stay because all I needed was a strength and conditioning coach. That was all I asked for.

Q: Do you see yourself as an X-factor since you’re still the team’s only true big?

Not really. I won’t call myself an X-factor. I don’t think people are going to look at me as an X-factor. They’re already going to know. It’s just me working hard, keep trying to get better. … It’s just me playing hard. I’m not really worried about any of that. I know if I’m in the best shape I can be and I’m playing as hard as I can play, there’s nothing I’ll have to worry about. There’s no worries for me at that point.

Q: What was your favorite part of last season?

Just the bonding with Kyle (Anderson), Jordan (Adams) and Shabazz (Muhammad). Those guys were really like my brothers. It was just the bonding with them. It was very fun having those guys around and having them with me.

Q: Does it feel different without Shabazz now?

We always have group messages and we always talk, so it’s kind of like he’s here in spirit. It’s good. We wish him the best of luck in summer league. … Me, Kyle and Jordan, we watched (the draft) together, so it was cool watching him get drafted.

Q: How do you envision this team playing without Shabazz and Larry Drew II?

It doesn’t change much. We’ve still gotta play hard. Those are two great players. Larry leads UCLA in (single-season) assists, ever. Shabazz had a heck of a freshman year. You’re not going to find anybody to replace them, but we’re just a closer team now. If they were here, we would still be closer because they would’ve been through another season with us. It’s us playing together, playing hard. We should be fine.