- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - About this time three years ago, Chandler Parsons and Orlando Johnson made decisions that changed their basketball careers.

Parsons sat in Florida coach Billy Donovan’s office and chose to overhaul his attitude. On the opposite coast, Johnson left rebuilding Loyola Marymount for less-established UC Santa Barbara.

They have since become two of the most versatile players in college basketball, and have their teams in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.

One of them will get their first win Thursday night when the Gators (26-7), the No. 2 seed in the Southeast region, play the 15th-seeded Gauchos (18-13).

Parsons and Johnson took totally different paths to get to this point.

Parsons followed Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah at Florida, and expected to get to the Final Four every season. But the 6-foot-9 senior from nearby Orlando refused to buy into Donovan’s defense-first philosophy and spent most of his time thinking about NBA stardom.

Donovan offered Parsons a wake-up call in 2008, just after his freshman season. In a private meeting, Donovan told Parsons he need to change his ways or transfer to another school.

Parsons stuck around and is coming off his best season. He’s averaging 11.5 points and leads Florida in rebounding and assists. He was a unanimous selection as the Southeastern Conference player of the year.

“(Donovan) really put my back against the wall and I had to make a decision whether I was going to buy into his system or I could have took the easy way out and went somewhere else,” Parsons said. “Never in my mind did I ever want to leave Florida. I respect Coach for that, for trying to get the best out of me.

“I think him pushing me that hard has gotten me to where I am today.”

Johnson considered signing with UCSB out of Palma High School in Salinas, Calif., but coach Bob Williams stopped recruiting him. Johnson ended up at Loyola Marymount, where the led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman.

But after a five-win season, Loyola Marymount coach Rodney Tention resigned, and Johnson started searching for a new team. Williams, realizing his recruiting mistake, jumped at the chance to get Johnson onboard.

“I just wanted to start over and begin a new me,” said Johnson, who leads the Gauchos with 21.l points and 6.3 rebounds and was named the MVP of the Big West tournament. “There’s definitely no regrets. I wanted to make my stamp on a program like this. I felt like I could be a player they could build off.”

The Gauchos have.

Johnson, a 6-foot-5 swingman from Seaside, Calif., has led the team in scoring in 16 of the last 19 games and emerged as a legitimate NBA prospect. He scored 85 points in the Big West tournament and led the Gauchos to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in school history.

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