Posted Mar 19 2011 11:47AM
Over many years of covering college basketball, one of the criteria I've used to help determine a player's next-level worthiness is what I like to call the Bill Russell Test.
Obviously, the Bill Russell Test is not required for Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin or John Wall. But for a player who's not quite a slam dunk to get drafted, it can be revealing.
Here's how it works: ask a player whether he's heard of a particular former NBA great -- it doesn't have to be Russell -- and monitor his reaction. I've gotten a lot of blank stares, but sometimes I've been pleasantly surprised, such as the time I asked former Mississippi State star Jarvis Varnado, who became the NCAA's all-time leading shot blocker, if he knew of Russell. And what a pleasant surprise: not only did Varnado know all about the former Celtic great, he had studied old game tapes, observed how Russell had mastered the art of blocking shots in bounds and incorporated that into his game.
When Varnado told me that, I jotted it down in my notebook. This guy has a chance, I thought, because he's a student of the game. And as such, he's willing to put in the time to learn from those who came before him and work hard to get better.
Varnado, drafted last June by Miami, played in Italy this year, but his rights belong to the Heat. Will he ever play in the NBA? I think he will, but there are no guarantees. Hey, I didn't say the Bill Russell Test was the leading indicator of whether a college kid can make it in the NBA. It's just one indicator.
All this brings me to Florida's Chandler Parsons, a 6-foot-10 senior who was chosen the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year despite averaging just 11.4 points. More on that later.
I spoke with Parsons last month when I was doing research for a profile piece, and the first thing I asked him was whether he had heard of Larry Bird. I chose Bird because, like Larry Legend, Parsons has the ability to impact games as a facilitator from the forward position.
"Oh, I'm a big Larry Bird fan," Parsons said.
As it turns out, Parsons didn't have a choice. He grew up in a basketball family. His grandfather, Don Parsons, is still the 26th all-time scorer in Rutgers history. Father Gary was the Division II Player of the Year at Rollins College. And older brothers Chad, Chris and Chase used to take particular delight in pounding on the youngest member of the Parsons clan during their hardcore driveway pickup games. Until, that is, Chandler hit a growth spurt and shot past them all, stopping at 6-foot-10 while retaining the skills of a guard.
Given his family background, it was inevitable Parsons would be introduced to Bird and his well-rounded game. And Parsons paid attention.
"I always thought Larry Bird played basketball the way it ought to be played," Parsons said.
Parsons has a lot of Larry Bird in him. Put him on the floor with a lineup that doesn't have a true point guard, and you can run offense through him. Need a rebound? Parsons can rack up boards with the best of them, especially on the offensive glass. Need somebody to make a clutch 3-pointer? Parsons can knock them down. At one time or another during his Florida career, Chandler has played every position but center.
"With his size, he's got a good feel of how to play," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "You can put the ball in his hands and he can make decisions and alleviate pressure off our guards. He really does everything -- he rebounds his position well, handles it, shoots it, puts it on the floor and makes plays. Sometimes we've played him at the point, and sometimes we make an entry pass to him and he can make plays. He's been that kind of guy for us, a very versatile and well-rounded player."
This season, Donovan's fellow SEC coaches realized how versatile and well-rounded Parsons had become. Though Chandler was only the third-leading scorer on his own team, he was chosen by the league's coaches as SEC Player of the Year.
Asked to explain his vote, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy invoked the name of a former NBA player of recent vintage.
"I've tried to think of a player he reminds me of, and the guy who keeps coming up in my mind is Detlef Schrempf," Kennedy said. "That's who he plays like. He impacts the game from his position more than anyone on Florida's team, and quite possibly more than anybody in the SEC."
A typical Parsons performance came on Thursday in Florida's opening round NCAA Tournament victory over UC Santa Barbara. In just 27 minutes, Parsons flirted with a triple-double: 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, with a blocked shot and two steals thrown in for good measure. Talk about a stat sheet stuffer.
Generally speaking, a college player hoping to find a place in the NBA can survive with one next-level skill. Parsons might have several of them.
"One of his advantages is that he has a number of skills he does well," said NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake. "He shoots the ball. He's got size. He passes very well. He's a rebounder. And he's a hard worker and has a professional approach to the game."
And there's one more thing: Chandler Parsons passes the Bill Russell Test.
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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