The Road Not Taken: Bobby Ray Parks, Jr.’s unconventional path to basketball stardom

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both’

In making major decisions, one simply cannot take all the options available. As hard as choosing may be, something has to be given up. It’s like a general rule: be it in career, in relationships, or in life as a whole.

For some of us, it might seem like our paths were already decided even before we could make the choices for ourselves. People might expect us to follow the footsteps of someone influential in our lives, or take a certain path based on what the circumstances can offer.

Take Bobby Ray Parks as an example. As a son of a PBA legend and a kid who played—and won—at US high school basketball level, he already created a lot of buzz even before he was able to play in college. The moment he returned to the Philippines, it seemed like his destiny was already set: dominate in college basketball, and then become a star in the PBA.

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It certainly looked that way when Ray started his UAAP career. Right after he joined National University, he exceeded all the crazy expectations that was set for him by the fans. He won the MVP award in his first season. He went on to win another MVP finished his UAAP career with an average of 20 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 42 elimination round games. However, he failed to take the Bulldogs to the championship, a fact his critics never forgot.

Everything was going well for Ray. As young as he was, he was already touted as one of the best basketball players in the country. His path to follow his dad’s footsteps was already clear. He just needed to stay on his lane, and everything would be on cruise control for him, at least until he got drafted in the PBA.

But after his UAAP stint, Ray decided to take his journey on another way. He left the country to pursue his NBA dream, a bold move from someone from the Philippines by any standards.

It wasn’t the easiest path to take, even for a college superstar like him. That didn’t stop him from doing it anyway. However, he was deemed ineligible for the 2014 NBA Draft, which led him to play another season in the PBA D-League. He dominated the league upon his return, as he beat out Moala Tautuaa for the MVP award. He was a potential top pick if he declared for the 2015 PBA draft.

One year later, he decided to resume his pursuit to play in the NBA. He reapplied in the 2015 NBA draft, but finished undrafted. Still, he did enough to gain a second look from the Dallas Mavericks. He was included in the franchise’s Summer League team, and was eventually drafted in the D-League by Mavs’ affiliate, Texas Legends. Ray averaged 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 32 games in the D-League. But after just one season, he found himself without a team.

Bobby Ray Parks

With his NBA dream abruptly stopped, Ray could have easily gone back to the Philippines to declare for the PBA draft. It was certainly an option after he spent some time playing in the best basketball country in the world. He did enough to raise his stock and become a top pick in the PBA draft. But instead, he took another step against the grain and went to the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).

It was a shocking move, to say the least. For a long time, ABL has been a refuge for unsigned PBA players. From AJ Mandani to Leo Avenido to Asi Taulava to Eric Menk, the ABL became a destination for Filipino ballers who sought to revive their careers. It was a zig when everyone expected Ray to zag.

The ABL helped players like Matthew Wright, Moala Tautuaa and Justin Melton to introduce themselves to the Philippine hoops scene. But Ray didn’t need that kind of introduction. He was already known in the country, and was fresh off appearances in the NBA D-League and Gilas Pilipinas. In terms of talent and experience, he was ready to jump to the PBA.

But still, Ray chose to represent the country, albeit in a different league. Upon his arrival, he was expected to lead Alab Pilipinas in its quest to win the title, something that no Philippine team has done since 2013. It was another challenge for Ray. He failed to bring NU to the championship, maybe he could win with Alab.

It wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish, though. The competition in the ABL became tougher through the years. In just its second season back in 2011, the Thais beat the Filipinos for the championship. Filipino squads only won two out of the six ABL titles from 2009 to 2016. Yes, the Philippines was the best basketball country in Southeast Asia. But that didn’t mean that the other ABL teams were pushovers.

That’s what Ray learned in his first ABL season as the main man for the Filipino squad. He averaged 18.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists en route to the ABL Local MVP award. However, it wasn’t enough as they were defeated by the Singapore Slingers in the semifinals.

But his effort in his first ABL season didn’t go unnoticed, especially among Filipino fans. He managed to increase his profile locally even if he’s playing outside the biggest pro league in the country. He’s no longer just a college star who pursued his larger-than-life dream of entering the NBA, only to fall short. He’s no longer just his father’s son. He’s his own man. He’s a star who decided to carve his own path into the mainstream of Philippine basketball.

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The route that Ray took to reach stardom wasn’t the most conventional, especially for a guy with his skill and stature. Usually, players need to go to the PBA to be known in the country. By going to the ABL, Ray has proven that there is a different way for players to be known in the local scene. He has been playing for Alab in home arenas with big crowds, sometimes jampacked venues. It certainly helps that his team has been playing outside Metro Manila. As such, Ray has been showing his skills closer to the fans from provinces like Bulacan, Laguna and Davao.

This season, Alab acquired the services of big names and familiar faces in Philippine basketball. Gilas Pilipinas legend Jimmy Alapag took the head coaching job, while seasoned PBA veteran Dondon Hontiveros was added to the roster. PBA vets Rico Maierhofer and Josh Urbiztondo, and former PBA imports Renaldo Balkman and Justin Brownlee were also brought to the fold.

The roster overhaul did so much more than just improve the team’s chances of winning the championship. By signing bigger names (and probably Christian Standhardinger signing with Hong Kong Eastern), Alab created more buzz for ABL in its home country. Fans became more interested, and it created more opportunities for Ray to become a well-known player in this country.

And Ray did not let the opportunity slide. Despite the dip in his stats, Ray is still performing well this season. He is currently averaging 15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as one of the key players in Alab’s return trip to the semis. He continues to shine for

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It’s only a matter of time before Ray can determine if he and the rest of Alab Pilipinas can win the championship this year or not. It also isn’t clear what his next step will be, whether he’ll stay in the ABL, or finally make the jump to the PBA, or play for another league.

But whatever his decision will be, it’s clear that he is now a high profile star in the Philippine basketball scene. And he continues to increase his reach without stepping into the PBA—a proof that no matter where you are, no matter what team you play for, as long as you play great basketball, fans of this basketball-crazy nation will take notice.

He took the road less traveled. And by doing so, he has made a difference.

Photos from Texas Legends and ABL

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