By Chris Gundrum
Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI - For JaQuon Parker, the 2010-11 season didn't unfold as planned. Parker played like a budding star as a freshman. The vision of Parker celebrating a bucket in the final minutes of UC's improbable run at Madison Square Garden was fresh in the heads of Bearcats coaches, players and fans.
Nights like his 15-point, five-assist show against South Florida and 13-point, five-rebound grind against Rutgers were supposed to be the rule more than the exception as his game evolved.
Rather than build on his freshman season, Parker faded into a sophomore slump. He averaged nearly five points per game in 2009 for the Bearcats, compared to barely one in 2010.
Parker was simply odd man out in the rotation. Instead of contributing to the best season in the Mick Cronin era on a nightly basis, Parker sat on the bench watching, waiting for his name to be called.
Many nights, it wasn't.
"When you're just sitting on the bench for all of those games it's real hard," Parker said. "You can't do anything to help your team."
One influence that certainly didn't help Parker was those asking why he wasn't receiving more playing time.
Some close to him questioned whether or not Cincinnati was the right place for him and suggested that maybe transferring was the way to go. Former Virginia AAA state players of the year expect to play. Parker never logged more than eight minutes in a conference game. He didn't leave the bench in half of them.
Hundreds of players transfer in college basketball every year. Nobody would have blamed Parker for being one of them.
"A couple people told me that but I knew better," Parker said.
He knew the only person to blame for his lack of success was wearing No. 44 on game nights. Effort was his problem.
"When the season was over he said, 'Look, it's all me, I had a bad offseason,'" Cronin said, recalling the conversation. "I thought I was just going to come in and play and I got beat out. I need to work harder."
Cronin asked Parker to commit to his self-assessment. Parker already did.
"I didn't really work hard so I didn't expect much out of it," Parker said of his sophomore year. "I know when I work hard that there's a pretty good chance that I'm going to play."
Still, Parker brushed off the negative suggestions and continued to work in practice and support his team when they needed him.
"He was the first guy to come off the bench if you yelled his name," Cronin said. "He had a great attitude about being a team player. I appreciate the way he was handling it."
Teammate Dion Dixon could relate to Parker's problems. Dixon went through the same tribulations his sophomore year. Like Parker, Dixon was the first player to come off the bench during games yet wondered if he made the right choice coming to Cincinnati.
"He didn't even have to ask me about it, I already knew what was going on," Dixon said. "I would just tell him to be positive about it, get in the gym and work at it and you'll be all right."
So, they did.
The two worked out together this summer and Dixon continued to reiterate the importance of Parker staying focused and working hard.
It has been clear to his teammates that Parker took Dixon's advice to heart, changing his workout routine from a year ago. Instead of waiting to get better, he dedicated most of his summer to becoming a better player in hopes of playing a more active role in his team's success this year
"The last couple years I really didn't do much work," Parker said. "But this offseason, I did everything from conditioning to shooting the ball and defense and footwork."With all of the work Parker put in over the summer, Cronin believes Parker has the potential to surprise people with his role on the team this year. He also looks for Parker to fill a void left by former players Rashad Bishop and Larry Davis.
According to Cronin, Bishop and Davis brought an invaluable toughness to the team. Parker can be the guy to fill that role. It's why he's still here.
"I am already
seeing it in his workouts," Cronin said. "Mentally he's ready to go. He's as
focused as I've ever seen him. He is going to help us. You can only hope to
coach guys with his character. If everybody had his character I would have the
easiest job in the world."