LITHONIA, Ga. -- Woodstone Road sits roughly 25 miles west of the pop and glamour of Atlanta, but it might as well be clear across the country. It's quiet and homely. It's one of those roads you've got to know is there in order not to miss.
Midway down the road, at the top of a steep hill, sits a two-story, brick-lined house with a well-manicured lawn. It's at this house where a meeting of the minds will ensue. Where Tony Parker, a senior forward at Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), has summoned the help of his inner circle to weigh the pros and cons of his college suitors -- UCLA, Memphis, Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgetown and Georgia.
The meeting is vital on so many different levels.
As one college assistant from a top-10 school put it, "Tony could mean the difference between the Sweet 16 and the national championship."
"I've never looked at it like that," Parker said. "That's kinda crazy. The roundtable just got more crazy, huh?"
March 16, Pre-Roundtable
At 8 a.m., Parker's oozing with so much energy you'd swear he'd just downed a case of Red Bull as he rides shotgun on his way to school.
He has just finished a grueling two-hour workout with his trainer, Kevin Peoples, that's got him ramped up for the day.
"I've got to go somewhere that has a crazy trainer like KP," Parker said. "That's one of the things I love about Kansas. I love Hudy."
Andrea Hudy is the assistant athletic director for sports performance at Kansas and trains the Jayhawks' men's basketball team.
Hudy also trained eight national championship teams at Connecticut, where she worked for 9½ years before joining Kansas in 2004.
"She's a monster," Parker said. "She'll get you where you need to be. Kansas has a lot of things I like. They love me there."
He gets the same adoration at Miller Grove.
As soon as he steps onto campus it's clear that Parker is in his element.
Here's a guy who wears a brown and gold Louis Vuitton belt with a matching wallet that's attached to his belt buckle and dangles to the side.
Parker wasn't in school three minutes before a school administrator asked him to autograph her newspaper clipping of the Wolverines' fourth-straight state title win, a feat they accomplished just six days prior. Parker averaged 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks a game this season for the Wolverines.
"He thinks he's got swag," joked the school's police officer. "But he ain't got no swag. Well, maybe a little."
Dripping with swag or not, what Parker does have is an infectious personality.
At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Parker may look the part of a ferocious nightclub bouncer, but the reality is more Teddy Ruxpin than Mr. T.
Parker's bubbly and charismatic, engaging and funny, and has the innate ability to make everyone think he's their best friend.
In the hallways between classes, guys give him pounds, girls smile and wave, and teachers hang on to his every word.
Parker relishes the attention.
He doesn't need it, but it's clear that he'd rather have it than not.
"The funny thing is when people I don't even know give me nicknames like 'T' or 'TP,'" Parker said with a laugh. "I think to myself 'I don't even know you,' but I would never say something like that. Couldn't embarrass them."
The prevailing question amongst the student body is a cliché one.
"Where are you going to school, Tony?" one girl asked.
Parker takes it in stride.
He smiles and shrugs before saying, "I'll know more tonight."
Suddenly, Parker's old social studies teacher Cherie Pinchem steps into the hallway and issues a threat.
"If you choose Ohio State, I'll have to beat you down," said Pinchem, who graduated from Michigan in 1994. "I just can't even think about you picking that school."
"Wow, it's like that?" Parker asked. "I'm weighing it all out tonight, Ms. Pinchem. I do like the Buckeyes, though. Can't lie. Still love ya though."
She rolls her eyes. Parker laughs and walks to his coach Sharman White's office.
Parker gave White the nickname "Elvis" after the Wolverines won their fourth state title.
"Elvis was the greatest to ever do it," Parker explained. "And Coach White is the Elvis of high school basketball coaches."
White shakes his head and laughs.
"This guy is crazy," White said. "Tony, you know [Georgia] coach [Mark] Fox has been trying to get in touch with you."
"Yeah?" Tony said. "I need to call him back. I would have last night, but I was talking to [Duke] coach [Mike] Krzyzewski. That was a good talk."
White calls Fox and hands Parker the phone. They make small talk for five minutes and Parker hangs up.
"Coach Fox be on it," Parker said. "He goes hard. Gotta respect that."
Parker walks around and looks at the press clippings plastered all over White's office. He talks about the agonizing nerves that torment him before big games to the point of insomnia.
Then Parker pauses.
He slumps down on the maroon couch on the back wall and stares blankly up at the ceiling almost in a trance.
"You know the only thing that I'm more nervous about," Parker said. "Picking the wrong school."
"I know, I know," White said. "It's something that I think about too. We'll talk it out tonight. We'll put it all out there."
Parker nods, but remains in a daze. He continues to stare blankly as if he's deep in thought.
"Yep," he said. "Tonight. Tonight."
The gloomy overcast has forced the sun into hiding on this breezy evening, but the grim weather has done little to subdue the mood in the Parker house.
A small crowd of 11, including family members, White and friends, stirs about waiting on Parker to shower up after his second workout of the day.
The house is immaculate and Hazel, Parker's mother, keeps it that way. Still, the vibe is inviting. The Parkers don't enact the "shoes off at the door" rule; it's come as you are.
The aroma of Hazel's baked chicken wings snakes through the house, enticing everyone while Virgil, Parker's father, lightens the mood with his dry sense of humor.
African art hangs on the walls, board games are neatly displayed in front of the fireplace and seven sheets of paper with the logo of each team that he's considering are taped to the shiny wooden piano.
The men lounge on the brown leather couches and debate whether Kentucky "will realize they're a bunch of freshmen" as they watch the NCAA tournament while the women reminisce about old times at the dinner table over a game of cards.
"Tony was so chubby when he was 10, that he literally got stuck in the slide at Chuck E. Cheese," Parker's godmother, Malissa Hayes-White, recalled. "They literally had to kick him down the slide."
Hazel and Linda Colvin, Parker's best friend's mom, tear up in laughter.
The doorbell rings.
It's Dion Glover, the former Georgia Tech star who played six seasons in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs.
Glover is Parker's basketball trainer and the beeline he makes for Hazel's wings and the manner in which he scarfs them down before he even makes it to his seat make it very obvious that he's a part of the family.
When the conversation turns random, Virgil knows the time has come.
"All right guys," he said. "Let's do it."
Parker's anxious to start.
He glances over at the sheets of paper taped to the piano and says, "Let's start with Georgetown."
The pros are as expected for the Hoyas and even Memphis, the next school they discuss.
Parker's sister Kelsey loves the fact that Georgetown is in Washington, D.C. Hazel loves the academic reputation at both schools, but Chris Colvin, Parker's best friend's dad, has some concerns about Parker in the Princeton offense.
"I don't know if I like Tony hitting the backdoor cutter all the time," Chris said.
The men nod and discuss. "OK, Ohio State," Parker said.
Hazel starts with how impressed she is with the academic reputation there, but adds that "it's really far and really cold there. Beautiful school, but it's far and cold."
The women start a small conversation to discuss those points before Virgil shakes his head and interrupts with "OK, well if we're done with that unimportant stuff, maybe we can talk about the basketball side of things now?"
The group laughs.
Parker likes the Buckeyes' pitch that he could come in and be the next Jared Sullinger, he likes the coaching staff and loves that "the fans are crazy."
The only thing that gives him pause is the focus on Sullinger dropping weight. He's dropped 16 pounds since last season.
To be fair, Sullinger's numbers are almost identical to last season -- 17.4 points, 9.1 rebounds -- but his stock has dropped in most mock drafts from projected top-five pick last season to late lottery this season.
Just when the group begins to give him props for making a good point, Parker finds a way to make his own physique be the segue into the discussion about UCLA.
"And that's why I don't know how much more weight I'd want to lose," Parker continued. "I mean I've got to think about my career as an underwear model if I'm out in L.A."
The group bursts into laughter. Virgil shoots him an incredulous squint and shakes his head.
"Well, I'll tell you right now," Virgil said. "If you go there, we're probably going to be asleep when you're playing."
The group nods almost simultaneously.
Kelsey brings up the Sports Illustrated article which depicted UCLA as an out-of-control program in utter chaos.
"Man, that article was corny," Parker said. "It was mostly about Reeves [Nelson] who caused most of the problems, but he's not even there anymore. Doesn't hold weight with me at all."
"OK, but what about you being homesick?" Hazel asked.
"I'd manage, Mom," Parker responded with a laugh.
Hazel's not so sure. Virgil neither.
Parker knows why.
He laughs and throws his head back before saying, "Y'all just want to be able to come visit all the time. That's the thing."
Virgil disagrees, but Parker cuts him off and drives home his point with the backing of Linda and Hayes-White.
Virgil won't concede, but for a split second flashes an incriminating grin before Glover offers his two cents.
"I just think that would be the best fit for Tony based on the things he wants to accomplish," Glover said. "It's got nothing to do with the fact that Korey [McCray] is my best friend. I'm totally unbiased."
McCray, Parker's primary recruiter, and Glover won a state title together at Cedar Grove High School in 1997. UCLA hired McCray as an assistant last June after he served as CEO of the Atlanta Celtics, one of the most prestigious AAU teams in the country, which produced NBA stars like Dwight Howard, Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.
A hush falls over the room.
They all know Parker's got a point there. Even the women who admittedly "don't know much about basketball" have heard of them.
It makes sense. After all, Anderson and Muhammad are both top-five recruits. Parker is ranked No. 21 in the ESPNU 100.
"Plus they've got the best campus in the country," Parker continued. "It's just so ..."
"Far!" Hazel interrupted. "But it's your decision. I trust you."
She means it, but it's obvious that she wants him closer to home. It's the maternal side seeping through.
That's painfully evident when Parker says, "OK, let's talk Georgia."
Hazel smiles, sits up on the couch and makes an enticing offer.
"I could do your laundry all the time," she said.
Virgil turns in disbelief.
"You would really do that boy's laundry?" he asked.
"Yes!" Hazel said. "And I really like Coach Fox."
Parker isn't opposed to the idea of staying home and bringing the Bulldogs back to national prominence. Plus they've already got his former teammate Donte' Williams on the roster and are bringing in his current teammate Brandon Morris.
Still, Parker has concerns about the lack of fanfare at home games and the fact that it may be too close to home.
"You really think we're that excited to come see you all the time, huh," Virgil joked. "Trust me we wouldn't be seeing you all that much. We've got lives."
It's obvious that the group isn't buying it.
"Well, as a Tech man I think you should probably just tear that Georgia sheet of paper up altogether," Dion interjected. "I can't even stand looking at it."
"You hate them that much, Dion?" Virgil asked.
Glover goes on to tell the story about how he would've chosen Georgia had Tubby Smith still been the coach, but opted for the Yellow Jackets when Smith left.
"So if you were going to go there," Virgil said. "Why do you hate them then?"
"Simple," Glover said. "When I got to Tech, they told me to hate 'em."
Virgil laughs and Parker smiles and shakes his head.
"On that note," Parker said. "Let's talk Kansas."
It's obvious that Parker is high on the Jayhawks; he's like a kid reeling off his wish list for Christmas. It's almost as if he has rehearsed this spiel on what he likes about them.
He talks about the offensive sets, his love for all things Andrea Hudy, the focus on getting the ball inside and then there are the fans.
"They're insane," Parker said. "Being at the game there was indescribable."
"Atmosphere isn't something that would impress me," Hazel said.
"This isn't an atmosphere," Parker said. "This place is like a cult or a religion."
For the first time in the discussion, Virgil gets excited.
He visited Kansas with Parker on Feb. 25 for the Jayhawks' nail-biting 87-86 win over Missouri.
"I've got to agree with him on that," Virgil said. "I'm not even that kind of fan, but that place draws you in. I was up slapping hands with dudes I didn't know. I was into that place."
Still, the Jayhawks have things working against them.
There is some concern with the logjam of Kansas' five-man 2012 recruiting class, which includes three post players.
"It's something you've got to look at," White said. "But Tony's a guy who won't need to worry about playing time wherever he goes, so that shouldn't be as big a factor."
"It's not that big a deal to me," Parker said. "But you've got to consider it. OK, Mom, now we can talk about the school you've been waiting to say all night."
Hazel smiles and says, "Duke. Yes, Duke. Well, you know I like Duke, Tony."
"Well, I don't know much about basketball," said Parker's cousin Jamila Holmes. "But I know you should be going there. Duke is my team!"
Parker seems eager to dispel the notion that he's not interested in Duke. He thinks that people have what he sees as legitimate concerns confused with "typical Duke hate."
It's obvious that Parker is very impressed with Coach K. He raves about him. Even refers to him as the "best coach in the country."
His chief concern is one that Parker says "everyone thinks."
"Just the development of their big men is something that concerns me," Parker said. "People think I hate Duke. That's crazy. Love Duke, it's just something I have to factor in."
Parker has thought about this extensively.
He reels off a list of names of supposed "can't miss" prospects in high school who never lived up to the hype in Durham, N.C.
"Mason was a monster in high school," Parker said. "Don't get me wrong, he's really good now, but I thought he would be much further along."
"What about Chris Burgess," Glover said.
After two dismal seasons at Duke, Burgess transferred to Utah and ended up overseas.
"I just don't see Tony as a guy who slaps the floor and takes charges," Glover said while hopping out of his seat and simulating Duke's famous floor-slapping maneuver. "I can't see that."
Everyone laughs. Everyone but Virgil.
He's convinced that, of all the schools on Parker's list, Duke needs him the most.
"Tony in a Duke uniform means he's somewhere that he's depended on every night," Virgil said. "If that's not a selling point, especially at a school like Duke, I don't know what is."
"Yes, and their academic reputation is great," Hazel added.
"That's true," White said. "And Coach K is a powerful man. Very powerful."
Parker concedes, but seems a bit frustrated. He doesn't think they're putting enough stock into the lack of development in the paint at Duke.
Karen Gibbs sees his point. Gibbs is the mother of Parker's girlfriend, Destinie, and a close family friend.
Parker talks about Destinie all the time.
To hear him tell it, waiting on him to ask her out two years ago, "was the hardest work Destinie's ever done."
"I see what you're saying, Tony," Gibbs said. "You want to make sure they're going to use you the correct way, right?"
"Exactly," Parker said. "I really like Duke. I just can't honestly say that I'm 100 percent comfortable with a guard teaching me about the post. Coach [Steve] Wojciechowski is like 5-foot-6."
"Well, I'm only 5-foot-11, Tony and -- " Virgil said.
"And you're the worst big-man coach in America," Parker joked.
The room erupts into laughter. Even Virgil fails miserably in his attempt to keep a straight face on that gem.
When the laughter subsides, Virgil turns serious, catches eyes with Parker, points at him and continues, "If you don't remember anything else, remember this," he said. "Go where you're needed. Forget about how whatever school used other guys. You're Tony Parker. You're going to get the ball. You're going to produce. That said, I support you 100 percent. We all do."
"I know, I know," Parker said. "It's a good point. It's a good point. I appreciate y'all."
Parker's Next Move
The den is empty.
There are no more chairs forming an imperfect circle, no more laughter to the point of tears, no more heated debates about defaming articles or mild complaints about the Pacific time zone.
Now it's just Parker and his thoughts.
He droops down on the brown leather couch, rubs both sides of his head and lets out a deep sigh.
A normally carefree kid whose God-given abilities have forced him into a situation that's anything but.
His vibe is serious. He's not the resident "fun guy" now. He's not "Tony Parker."
The knee-jerk reaction is to pity him. You almost want to take away the stress and get him back to his goofy self.
And then, almost suddenly, an epiphany.
"This talk, it's something that I needed," Parker said. "I didn't want to hear all of it, but, if I'm keepin' it real, I needed to. It's all about the decision now, and I'm close. Might even know. Might even know."
Soon everyone else will too.