LINCOLN — Not many Nebraska basketball followers realize how close sophomore point guard Benny Parker came last spring to becoming an ex-Husker.
Parker started 16 of 33 games a year ago, but struggled to adjust to major-college size and speed. He shot 35.6 percent from the field, 15.4 percent on 3-pointers and posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6 to 1.
By mid-January, opponents stopped guarding him on the perimeter.
“College was so much faster,” Parker said Friday. “I couldn't adapt to the game as quickly as I thought I could.”
More critical to Parker's future than his modest results were the two point guards joining the roster — Tai Webster, a freshman from New Zealand touted by some as a top 50-caliber recruit, and Deverell Biggs, a first-team junior college All-American.
So last March, Parker's end-of-season meeting with coach Tim Miles came with a come-to-Jesus moment: He was the No. 3 point guard for 2013-14 and may never play.
“I painted the worst-case scenario possible for him,” Miles said.
Parker remembers every word.
“He told me if I wanted to transfer, that option was on the table,” Parker said. “But I wanted to stay because I really like this group of guys. They are like my brothers.”
Still, there were discussions behind the scenes on whether Parker would be back. When no alternative was found, he stayed, and now Miles couldn't be happier.
With Webster struggling and Biggs out of the program for disciplinary reasons, Parker has become the spark in a surge that has Nebraska (13-10, 5-6) alone in sixth place in the Big Ten entering Sunday's game at No. 9 Michigan State.
The 5-foot-9, 166-pounder from Kansas City, Kan., played 24 minutes off the bench in Wednesday's win against Illinois without a turnover. He scored four points and added four steals and an assist.
What drew the most attention, though, was Parker forcing Illinois star Rayvonte Rice into a shot-clock violation, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and Miles into a fist-pumping fit.
“Benny was as disruptive defensively as I've seen him ever,” Miles said. “You could see them back off. That was exclusively Benny, and then everybody else fed off that.
“When your point-guard defense is good and aggressive and you can stand the ball up, everybody else's defense improves.”
The coach's reaction went viral. Parker said someone tweeted him the video.
“He's always got moments like that during the game,” Parker said. “It was just good to see he was finally happy.”
Miles was happy with Parker's work at Northwestern a week ago, too.
After Nebraska fell behind 22-16 at halftime, Parker used his on-ball defensive skills to force turnovers and create nine points in transition during the 53-49 win. In 16 minutes, he had five points, two steals, an assist and no turnovers.
“We don't win that game,” Miles said, “if we don't get those points.”
Miles rarely tinkers with the starting lineup. So don't be surprised if Webster continues to start but Parker plays more minutes.
“He has earned those minutes,” the coach said. “He's done a terrific job. I can't say enough about his resilience and his ability to battle and find a place on our team.”
In-your-face defense is Parker's specialty, especially against bigger opponents, of which nearly everyone qualifies.
“I like to get in 'em a lot,” he said. “They think I'm fouling, so they like to cry to the refs. I don't pay that no mind. I just keep doing it.”
Just like Parker paid no mind to his outlook entering this season.
“I finally realized I had to put in a lot of extra work and play harder,” he said, “and bring that defensive spark that Coach wants.”