Florida basketball: Chandler Parsons has found peace in life after the NBA

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

Chandler Parsons played for four different teams and made millions during a successful nine-year NBA career.

Deep down, though, Parsons considers himself a Gator first.

Parsons was inducted in the Florida Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this month after a four-year career at UF (2007-11) that ended with him becoming the first SEC men’s basketball player of the year in school history.

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“Once you get to the pros, it’s awesome but there’s politics and there’s money, people love you for different reasons, when you make it to the pros,” Parsons said. “When they love you here, they love you because you work hard, you play hard, you have a bad game they are still going to root for you. It’s just a different kind of love that you get at Florida than you do in the NBA.”

Now 33, Parsons has accepted the end of his NBA career, which occurred in 2020 in Atlanta after he was T-boned by a drunk driver in a serious car accident. In the accident, Parsons suffered a concussion, torn labrum and other bodily injuries.

“You don’t want to go out on the terms I did,” Parsons said. “I retired at 31 years old in a bad car accident. I had a lot of basketball to play but I’m not one of those bitter old guys watching that were ... like thinking 'I can’t believe this guy made that or this guy, I’m better than him.' I love the game. I love still watching.”

The next chapter for Parsons is to spend time with family. His fiancée, Haylee, attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremony with him. The two married a week later. The couple have a daughter, Rocket Rose, who will turn 1 on Oct. 30. They live in Malibu, Calif., not far from the beach, with neighbors that include Will Smith and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Members of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Jeff Demps, Joe Haden, Michelle Moultrie, Conor Dwyer, Chandler Parsons, Christian Taylor, Steve Beeland and Jeremy Foley, left to right, were inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame in early October.

Still, Parsons hasn’t forgotten his roots. One of his Hall of Fame ceremony invitations went to Tom Topping, the AAU coach with Nike Team Florida who first discovered Parsons as a skinny, tall 12-year-old from Casselberry who could shoot. Their friendship remains strong more than 20 years later.

“He’s just a genuine, caring person,” Topping said. “He likes people and he’s very, very loyal. He probably gives me a little more credit than I deserve for discovering him because he was a tall kid who could shoot the ball. That usually equates to basketball success.”

From doghouse to dominant player

At one point, Parsons wondered if he would even finish his college basketball career wearing a Gator uniform.

During a sophomore season at UF in which Parsons and the rest of the Gators struggled to a second straight trip to the NIT, then head coach Billy Donovan called him into his office and asked him if he wanted to transfer.

“When we were freshmen, we were the number one recruiting class.” Parsons said. “We had like me, Jai Lucas, Alex Tyus, Nick Calathes, and we went there thinking … we were going to dominate. We had just won the back-to-back (national) championships and we stunk.

Chandler Parsons signed a four-year, $94 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016 at a time when his knees started to fail him.

“We had been in the NIT two years in a row and during that second year Billy D wouldn’t let us wear anything with a Gator head on it. We weren’t allowed to wear Gator gear, we practiced at like Buchholz (High) because he wouldn’t let us practice in the facility, so we would have to bring our own clothes, do our own laundry. We weren’t even allowed to drink Gatorade. Like, it was nuts.”

Parsons stuck it out, dealt with the tough love and emerged as one of the most improved players in Florida basketball history (behind, perhaps, only Joakim Noah). Donovan and the rest of the Florida coaching staff pushed him.

“I thought it was personal,” Parsons said. “I thought he would attack me, I thought he hated me, I thought he was deflecting at me but then you realized that the better we do, the better he does, he’s trying to make a living for his family like I’m trying to get to the NBA with my family.”

The biggest adjustment. Parsons admitted, was the physicality of college basketball. He hit the weight room hard during his college career and filled out, going from 6-foot-8, 170 pounds as a freshman to 6-10, 220 pounds as a senior.

“You are a 17-year-old boy playing against a 21-year-old man,” Parsons said. “Everyone is faster, everyone is stronger, everyone has been lifting weights. I didn’t really lift weights in high school so that was really the biggest adjustment to me.

"I was always long and athletic but once I put it all together, I think that’s when it started coming together for me.”

Parsons earned a starting position as a junior. Two buzzer-beating shots boosted his confidence. One was pure luck, but it made national headlines. Off a missed North Carolina State free throw, Parsons heaved a 70-footer that swished through the net to lead Florida to a 62-61 overtime win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 3, 2010.

Then, in a nationally televised game on ESPN later that month, Parsons hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the O’Connell Center to give the Gators a 58-56 win over South Carolina.

“The one at home a week later was probably sweeter, just doing it in front of the fans and doing it in SEC play,” Parsons said.

Parsons finished his junior year averaging 12.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists, displaying his versatile skillset. Sometimes, Donovan even let Parsons run the point.

“There are guys like Chandler that are just very creative thinkers of the game,” Topping said. “Chandler understood the game like a coach but he was also super-skilled.”

After the breakout junior season, Parsons mulled entering the NBA Draft.

“I probably would have been a higher draft pick if I left my junior year but I wanted to come back so bad and I loved college so much,” Parsons said.

Florida's Chandler Parsons is guarded by Alabama's Chris Hines (44) and JaMyhal Green (1)  as he drives the lane during an SEC game in Gainesville in March 2011.

The feedback from NBA scouts was that Parsons still needed to hone his 3-point shot. He began his senior year pressing, going 1 for 9 from the floor in a Florida loss to UCF at Amway Arena in Orlando. Shortly after, Topping made the two-hour drive from St. Petersburg up to Gainesville to give Parsons a pep talk.

“I told him ‘When was the last time you had a tip dunk, when was the last time you had a double-double,’ ” Topping said. “How cool would it be to get a triple-double, and allow the 3-point stuff to come out of the offense, and he was receptive.”

Parsons wound up shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range in his senior season, averaging 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists to earn SEC Player of the Year honors. Florida reached the Elite Eight before falling to Butler 74-71 in overtime in a game that pitted two future NBA coaches against each other – Donovan and Butler’s Brad Stevens.

“I wish we would have won a little bit more,” Parsons said. “I wish I had been to the Final Four and won a national championship, but I had a great time, the relationships I met here and the coaches I played for, the teammates I had, the bonds I had with the fans and with the university and the staff. It’s really a special place.”

Life after basketball for Parsons

Parsons is financially secure after making more than $127 million in his NBA career. He signed a four-year, $94 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016 at a time when his knees started to fail him. Five different knee surgeries in three years, including microfracture surgery, took away his explosiveness driving to the basket.

Then came the trade to the Atlanta Hawks, the accident and the premature end to his NBA career.

“He was looking forward to being a strong veteran in the locker room contributing on the court when and where he could,” Topping said. “That was the understanding going in there and I think he was excited about that, kind of maybe taking a different role.”

Parsons remains involved in the game at the grassroots level. He started his own travel-league team close to a decade ago, now called Southeast Elite. One of its recent products is current Gator sophomore forward Alex Fudge, who transferred from LSU during the offseason.

“He’s gotten a lot better,” Parsons said. “He’s big, taller than me. He’s grown, he’s bouncy.”

He’s also re-connected with the Gator basketball program, visiting with head coach Todd Golden and attending a recent practice. He’s involved with the Gator Collective, a Name, Image and Likeness arm aimed to help current Florida athletes.

“Being a Gator fan, I’ll do whatever it takes to compete in this tough market,” Parsons said. “I’m here for anybody I could help out.”

Some envision Parsons as a future NBA executive, based on his intelligence and affable personality. Parsons said he’s close to starting a media venture, but couldn’t disclose all of the details.

“I’d still love to do something in the front office but just with the newborn and everything that’s going on I’m not really ready to leave home yet,” Parsons said.

Topping expects Parsons to find success in whatever path he chooses, but he said the front office could be a good fit

“Imagine that kind of savvy, and professionalism and charm in running a professional sports franchise,” Topping said. “He’s got it all, I think.”