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March 16, 2011When the end is approaching, just about every college athlete will tell you the four (or five) years have gone by in an instant. Senior forward Chandler Parsons felt that pang just days before the start of the NCAA Tournament, which tips off Thursday evening for Florida against UC-Santa Barbara in Tampa.
"It's set in - it's all or nothing," Parsons said. "It's flown by and I've enjoyed my time here. But as soon as we lose, we're done. I don't want that to come for another three weeks. We definitely want to make a run. That's what you dream about as a kid, going to March Madness, playing in the (NCAA) Tournament, going to the Sweet 16, experiencing all that stuff. I definitely want to do that."
Parsons and his teammates will take their initial NCAA Tournament step as the No. 2 seed, looking to cradle Florida's first victory in the Big Dance since the back-to-back national championships in 2006-07.
"I had a feeling we were going to be a 3 seed honestly, the 2 seed kind of shocked me," Parsons said. "But I think we deserve it. I'm happy with it. I like our draw. I'm excited to get going."
Some in the national media questioned the Gators' merit in earning that No. 2 seed, but Parsons shrugs off the doubters.
"You see stuff like Charles Barkley calling us over-rated but it's just people's opinion," he said. "There's nothing we can about it. The bracket is filled out. Now it's time to go play. All we can control is what we do, not what other people say or where they put us in the tournament, where we're playing. We can just control what we can control.
"You don't think about what other people are saying, you don't watch who's predicting what, you just focus on who you're playing and you don't look forward. Right now all we're worried about is UC-Santa Barbara and if we're fortunate enough to win, then we go through and keep enjoying the process and take it one game at a time."
This has been clearly the most enjoyable season of Parsons' UF career. The 6-9 forward put together a tremendous run in SEC play, leading the Gators to the regular-season league title. Along the way, he was named both the Coaches' and AP SEC Player of the Year, taking the latter honor in unanimous fashion. The consummate team player, Parsons remains humbled by the recognition.
"I'm honored that it was noticed what I do out there, playing unselfish, playing team ball," he said." I'm glad for the honor but like I said before with the Coaches (selection), I couldn't do it without my teammates and my coaches. It's just a huge blessing for me to get that.
"There's a lot of great players in this conference and a lot of guys had really good years. So that (unanimous pick) was really special for me. I'm really honored."
It was an achievement not many would have forecasted early in Parsons' career, including head coach Billy Donovan.
"I think he really, really got humbled after his sophomore year," Donovan said. "And I think he really started to address, 'OK, these are the things I've got to focus on, and these are the things I've got to do.' Everybody's journey and path is a little different. Chandler had to go through it. That's the hard part in coaching, because you realize you have them for such a small period of time that you're trying to create epiphanies for these guys where the light bulb goes on.
"I think for Chandler it took two years for the bulb to go off. If you look at where he was, and the fact that it's the first time ever in the history of this program that the University of the Florida has a Player of the Year in the SEC, it's pretty impressive. He deserves all the credit, because he was the one that put all the work in. He really did a great, great job. Because of his approach, I think he's going to have a career at the next level somewhere. I really believe that."
Looking back, Parsons smiles when told of Donovan's comments.
"I'm right there with him," he said. "If you would have told me two-three years ago I'd be unanimous SEC Player of the Year, I would have said, 'Get out of here, no way, not me.' But I worked very hard.
"I came in here with the complete wrong mindset. I came here thinking because I'm at Florida and they won back-to-back national championships, I'm going to do what these guys did, I'm going to be the next Corey Brewer. I didn't buy into everything I had to do, all the hard work I had to put in - I thought everything would just go because I came here. Coach Donovan has really helped me on and off the court with that."
Yet all the personal accolades and future potential are put on hold as Parsons and his teammates have some unfinished business to take care of in the next few weeks.
"Last year we had a totally different mindset - we were thinking, 'We just can't wait to get to the (NCAA) Tournament, we hope we're in,'" he said. "This year we have a lot bigger goals than that. We didn't just want to get in, we want to make noise and win a lot of games. Last year getting a taste of it will help us this year going forward."
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