Defending Fil Oil Cup champion National University became the first team to reach the quarterfinals this season, posting a spotless 7-0 card after making mince meat of the dangerous Arellano University Chiefs last Saturday, 86-71.
As expected, the man behind the Bulldogs’ winning run is the incomparable Bobby Ray Parks Jr. After all, he has delivered his team from the brink of disaster twice already in this summer tournament. In their opening game against NCAA king San Beda, Parks sent the game into overtime with a buzzer-beating triple, and completed the kill with crucial baskets in the extra period to upend the Red Lions, 73-71. Five games later, he exploded for 28 markers and broke the 68-all deadlock with a jumper with just 3.2 seconds left to lift NU to a 70-68 overtime victory over the Adamson Falcons.
“I have two guardian angels looking over me,” was Parks reply when asked about playing another inspired season, obviously referring to his late father Bobby Parks Sr., who passed away just two weeks before the start of the Fil Oil tournament, and late girlfriend Maan Panganiban, who likewise succumbed to cancer last year.
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Parks has been playing MVP numbers so far, averaging 19.4 points per game, just behind Perpetual Help’s Nosa Omorogbe (22 points), Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena (20.4 points) and UST’s Aljon Mariano (19.8 points). He also norms 7.2 boards, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals in seven games, and shoots at a remarkable 41% clip from beyond the arc.
But more importantly, Ray has become an effective leader for the Bulldogs, which is why they are on track for back-to-back titles here in the Fil-Oil Cup.
“I think we are more matured this season, and getting better through the years. We are now nearing the fruits of what the coaches taught. The rookies really stepped up, even when we lost a good defensive player in Ajeet (Singh), and a slasher in Choi (Ignacio). Fortunately, the rookies are young and hungry,” said Parks, who is looking forward to a winning collegiate season this year.
The prolific son of the six-time PBA Best Import Bobby Sr. also got a lot of help this year from the rest of the team. Rookie Albert Aroga is playing big as well for NU in the tournament, collecting 15.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, as Cameroonian center Emmanuel Mbe sat out the first six games due to an injury. With Mbe’s return, NU will have a mighty frontline tandem to care of the paint, giving Parks the luxury of taking care of the outside points.
“Definitely, having both of them, who are very athletic, will help the guards and forwards get more confidence in their shots. They’re work horses.”
Jeth Rosario and rookie Rodolfo Alejandro likewise contribute significant numbers with 9.2 and 6.3 markers respectively.
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NU and La Salle remain the only unbeaten teams from among the 18 participating schools this year. The Bulldogs also defeated St. Benilde (70-67), Jose Rizal University (71-60), FEU (67-64), and UPHSD (94-65).
In the few games that the Bulldogs were pushed to the limit by the other teams, it’s crystal clear that they want the ball in Ray’s hands. And so far, he has not disappointed them.
The sudden passing of his father was evidently heartrending for Ray but he has vowed to use the sad event to push him to work harder. “He’s my mentor. He’s always there. I know he’s looking out for me right now. I love playing the game he loves. Just carrying his name is truly a blessing and I just want to continue his legacy,” said Parks.
When asked about rumors that he was being recruited again by some US NCAA Division 1 teams, Parks’ reply was “I’m not making any hasty decisions right now. My main focus is winning a UAAP championship for NU.”
The Bulldogs went undefeated in last year's Fil Oil Cup and went on to finish third in the UAAP, losing to Santo Tomas in the Final Four. Can Parks finally lead them to the promised land this year?
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.