Bruins make it a 4-star class
Tony Parker, last of the blue-chip high school seniors on UCLA’s basketball recruiting wish list, gave three reasons Monday after announcing that he had chosen the Bruins.
Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.
Parker, a 6-foot-9, 280-pound center from Lithonia, Ga., was in the spotlight alone in making his choice later than most, but the moment he signified his decision by putting on a UCLA cap, he became part of a foursome.
“I thought I would go somewhere where I could really succeed with the freshmen that came in with me,” Parker said. “I have three great guys coming there with me, Shabazz, Kyle and Jordan.”
Parker was the last piece to a recruiting class that will be expected to reinvigorate a program that has meandered the last three seasons. The Bruins, beset by turmoil, finished 19-14 last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
Parker joins Muhammad, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High forward considered the No. 2 player in the nation; Anderson, a 6-8 guard from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, and Adams, a forward from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy.
“This was icing on the cake today, having Tony join this recruiting class that is really special,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
As to whether it expunges the bad taste from the 2011-12 season, Howland said, “It doesn’t change anything. The past is done. The whole key is to learn from it.”
UCLA’s recruiting class was ranked third in the nation by Scout.com before Parker signed. His presence pushed the Bruins’ class to No. 2 -- past Arizona but still behind national champion Kentucky.
The influx of freshman talent in Tucson and Westwood improves the Pac-12 Conference’s reputation after the league sent only two teams -- Colorado and Washington -- to the NCAA tournament.
Howland knows well the pitfalls that can scuttle a recruiting class. UCLA had the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class in 2008. Yet Jerime Anderson was the only one of the five recruits who remained four seasons, and UCLA never advanced further than the NCAA tournament’s second round.
“These are the problems you want to have,” Howland said of renewed expectations. “I have no doubt this class will turn out to be a great class when people look back on it.”
Parker was eager to face the expectations after winning four Georgia state high school titles. He had narrowed his choices to Ohio State, Kentucky, Kansas and Georgia, which hoped staying home would be appealing.
Parker wanted more.
“To stay home and just be a hometown hero, I don’t think that’s pressure,” Parker said. “I think that’s kind of the easy way out. If you go someplace far away, that’s pressure. I’m a piece of coal. I’ll be a diamond when I leave UCLA.”
Parker joins his former AAU coach, Korey McCray, now a UCLA assistant. Parker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that McCray is “like an older brother to me, and he has been looking out for me for a long time.”
Howland said McCray was key to landing Parker and Adams, from Lawrenceville, Ga..
“If he weren’t on staff, we wouldn’t have gotten either of those kids,” Howland said.
How long any of the four will remain is to be seen. UCLA has had nine players jump to the NBA early, three after their freshman seasons.
“We’ll see what happens,” Howland said. “What I have to worry about is not getting caught short-handed, like we did this year. I have to try to anticipate.”
On Monday, Parker was talking about arriving, not leaving, and he was already in anticipation mode. “UCLA is where I can succeed and improve,” he said. “Especially with the guys I’ll be coming in with.”