By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 2, 2005
TAMPA - Ezria Parsons hears her coaches during games, sometimes yelling from courtside, sometimes just in her head, trying their best to change her instincts.
It's the opposite of what most coaches drill into their players: Please, the rebounds and defense are great, but can you squeeze in a little more scoring?
"They're telling me I need to shoot more," the 6-foot senior forward says of her USF coaches. "Rebounding is what I love to do. I take that and defense to heart. Not too many people like to do it. I keep saying, "Okay, I'm a shooter now, I need to go out and shoot."'
Parsons averaged 22.6 points as a senior at South Sumter but she always has liked the rest of the game more. Growing up in Bushnell as the youngest of eight children, she took a liking to rebounding because her five brothers wouldn't let her get off many shots.
"Playing with the boys, that's what I could do. They'd block my shots all the time," she said. "So I'd think, if I just go in and get a rebound, that's something. But they wouldn't take it easy on me in there."
In middle school, Parsons would go to sister Tehesha's high school practice, holding her own with girls three years older. The result is the same now, as her opponents might be bigger, but Parsons knows where a loose ball is going to fall, and she's there.
"She's one of the best rebounders around," coach Jose Fernandez said. "She has a great knack for the ball. And she's so unselfish."
It's something she's trying to work on, but she's still second on the team in assists, getting 4.0 per game. She'll take extra shots in practice, work on 3-pointers even, but it's still a work in progress.
"I'm not a selfish player," said Parsons, known as "E-Z" to her teammates. "I like to get my team involved, because I think that's what wins games. I get in the game, and it's rebound, pass . I have to get that state of mind to shoot more. I can do it. Rebounding's my first love, so I'm still going and crashing."
Parsons' first two seasons at USF had her playing in the post, largely out of position, due to depth concerns in the frontcourt. Last season, she responded with the third-best rebounding season in school history, totaling 284, or 8.9 per game, the fourth-best average in Conference USA.
The Bulls are trying to work her more at small forward this season, allowing centers Nalini Miller and Sharon Cambridge to play together inside, but Parsons is still the team's leading rebounder, averaging nine in USF's first five games.
As coaches had hoped, her scoring is much improved, at 10.2 points per game, up from a quiet 5.8 last season. She still relies on cutting and slashing to the basket, on turning her offensive rebounds into putbacks, but she's taking more of the scoring burden off her teammates.
"The girls respect the commitment she's shown," Fernandez said. "She had the best spring and summer she's had here, has really worked hard to improve some areas of her game. Now she's getting rebounds and she's also getting second shot opportunities, going back up with it."
Parsons said USF's best asset is the chemistry among the players, something that was missing her freshman year at Auburn ("not even close," she says), prompting her to transfer to the Bulls, who had recruited her out of high school.
"That's what I love about USF. Everybody gets along great," she said. "Nobody talked about anybody, no drama. If there was, we didn't take it on the court."
The Bulls open a challenging three-game stretch against Top 15 teams tonight at No.7 North Carolina, and they'll need plenty of Parsons - rebounding, scoring and then some - to contend with the Tar Heels, who reached last year's NCAA Final Four, and to challenge in their first season in the Big East.
"Our goal is to get to the NCAAs, and we have a pretty good chance of doing that," she said. "This schedule we have, it's only going to prepare us for the Big East. We're going to face those types of teams night in and night out. This can only help us."