ATHENS – Juwan Parker can’t remember which game it was or exactly what opposing player said it. But he hasn’t forgotten what was said. He took it to heart.
Georgia’s redshirt junior guard rose up early in a game and launched a 3-pointer. It clanged harmlessly off the rim and was quickly snatched away by the defense.
“The kid told me ‘that’s what we want you to do,’” Parker recalled late Tuesday night, mocking the tone of the taunt. “I went home and thought about it that night. I was like, ‘man, I’ve got to get back to what I do.’”
That had to have happened at least 10 games ago because Parker has been lighting it up for that long. The 6-foot-4 wing scored 17 in the Bulldogs’ 76-68 win over Vanderbilt at Stegeman Coliseum. That represented his seventh consecutive game in double figures and eighth in the last 10.
Suddenly, all those cries of “Georgia needs to find a consistent third scorer” have been muffled. And suddenly, No. 3 for the Bulldogs is showing up on the first page of opposing teams’ scouting reports.
“We knew he was going to drive right and he was really good at it and he was able to score a lot that way,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “He’s a very physical player. … He looks like a very valuable part of their team. If he plays like this he could be a big difference in their season.”
Parker is certainly making a difference right now. He’s actually the perfect fix for what the Bulldogs were needing. In Yante Maten, the Bulldogs have low-post scoring and rebounding covered. Likewise, the little lightning bolt that is J.J. Frazier has perimeter scoring and play-making handled. It was in that no-man’s land between the lane and the 3-point line where Georgia needed some consistent production.
Parker happens to love it in there. He has a nice little mid-range jumper. He doesn’t mind mixing it up for rebounds. He has the strength to get off contested shots. And, yes, occasionally he’ll pop out there and knock down a 3 when opponents decide they’ll just give it to him. He was 1-of-2 from long range Tuesday and he’s made 36 percent of his 3s in SEC play.
“He finds the cracks and seams in the defense and makes his shots from there,” said Maten, who had his usual 21-point night. “He’ll even drive the ball here and there too if the defense is overplaying him, too. So he’s just an overall great player.
Surmised Parker: “With guys like Yante taking up all the attention inside and J.J. taking all the outside attention, that leaves the mid-range game for me to take.”
And Parker has been in feast-mode lately. His scoring average in SEC games is now up to 13.2. His overall scoring average of 9.8 has risen 2.5 points per game over the last seven games. In league play, he’s shooting 48 percent from the field, 82.1 percent from the line and 6.3 rebounds.
While it seems a revolutionary transformation to witness midway through what is Parker’s fourth season in college, it’s what has always been expected of him from his coaches. He averaged only 4.5 points per game over his first two seasons, but the last one-and-a-half were conducted with him sidelined due to Achilles tendon injuries.
“Juwan has just become the player we knew he would be,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox, who recruited Parker out of Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High. “ … He’s a complete player. He can shoot the 3, he scores from mid-range, he rebounds, he defends. And that’s really given us a lot of stability.”
At some point, maybe Parker can go back through the game tapes and figure out which player on what team it was who taunted him. Maybe he’ll thank him.