Unknown in the U.S., Parks has celebrity status in the Philippines
Ray Parks was raised in the Philippines, where his father was a legend
Parks moved to the U.S. from Manila in 2006 for better basketball competition
He'll play on Philippines national team and has drawn interest from Memphis, UVA
PHILADELPHIA -- The boys' varsity basketball team at St. George's Independent School in Collierville, Tenn., enjoys the luxury of having many of its games webcast on the site justin.tv, a channel run by a student named John Christian Williams. During breaks in the action, Williams will monitor the chat room that accompanies the live feed of the Gryphons' games, and typically, a few students and local fans drop by during road games or weekday games that they can't attend. The rest of the chatters, however, tend to be from a place with a 13-hour time difference: the Philippines.
Williams estimates that each of his webcasts is viewed by at least 10 Filipino fans; Filipinos also search out the highlight reels Williams posts on his Web site, gryphonsbasketball.com, on the days after games. If Williams is delayed in posting those compilations -- say, by homework, or an impending test -- he can expect an e-mail from someone in the Philippines. "Hey, John, I know you might be busy," it might read, "but if you have a chance to post last night's highlights, I'd love to see them."
What those Filipino fans are obsessing over, specifically, is a St. George's junior-to-be named Ray Parks.
Who is Ray Parks? In the U.S. recruiting scene, he's a left-handed, 6-foot-3 guard with no profile page on Rivals.com, and a meager profile with a two-star rating (as "Bobby Parks") on Scout.com -- a sleeper prospect with limited exposure. On the official roster for the Reebok All-America Camp this week at Philadelphia University, he's listed by his full name, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. "We use that name for events," explains his father, Bobby Ray Sr., who made the trip from Memphis to Philly to watch his son at the camp. "My name is recognizable, and you have to do everything you can to help him get noticed. After that, it's up to him to show his talent." Memphis fans, or at least older Memphis fans, know the name Bobby Ray Parks. He starred for the then-Memphis State Tigers from 1980-84 under coach Dana Kirk, and is currently the program's 15th-leading scorer of all-time.
The Atlanta Hawks selected him in the third round of the '84 draft, but his NBA career didn't make it past training camp. He was cut, then floated through a tryout with the Clippers, and stints in the CBA and France for a couple of years before settling in a country where his name now extremely well-known.
"My dad," Ray says, proudly, "is like the Michael Jordan of the Philippines."
That comparison isn't overly hyperbolical. In a 12-year career (1987-98) in the Philippines, where basketball is by far the most popular sport, Bobby Ray Sr. was named the Philippine Basketball Associate's Import of the Year -- the equivalent of the MVP award -- a record seven times, including after a season (1989) in which he averaged 52.6 points per game. In September he'll become just the second American (the other is Norman Black) to be inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame. Parks was Converse's main pitchman in the Philippines during his playing days, and also had roles in two Filipino films. The one the family owns a copy of, Wooly Bully 2, was a comedy released in 1990. "He was better than I expected," Ray says of his dad's acting chops. "I don't think anyone expects to see a giant black guy in a Filipino comedy, though."
Bobby Ray Sr. moved back to the U.S. from Manila in 2005, and Ray followed in 2006, before his eighth-grade year. Both Ray's mother (Marifer Celine Barbosa, who is divorced from Bobby Ray and now lives in Los Angeles) and stepmother (Jasmine, who lives with Ray in Memphis) are Filipino, and Ray fluently speaks Tagalog at home. Ray had been born and raised in Manila, where, because of his father's status as a pro athlete, the family had maids and a driver -- and therefore, Bobby Ray says, "the hardest part of bringing him to the U.S. was domesticating him.
"Ray had never seen a washing machine; he had never heard the words, 'Cut the grass,' because we had people doing everything. I had to keep nagging on him [to do chores]."
The main point of the move, though, was to expose Ray to better basketball competition so he could earn a Division I scholarship in the U.S., and pursue a potential pro future. Ray enrolled at St. George's because Elliot Williams, a first cousin of Bobby Ray's and a good friend of Ray's, was playing at the school. (Williams played a prominent role as a freshman for Duke last season, before transferring to Memphis this offseason to be closer to his mother, who's battling cancer.) Gryphons coach Jeff Ruffin says Ray can play nearly every position -- "He's a hard-nosed kid who can bring up the ball against pressure, or play on the wing, or even in the post as a five if we had a great matchup" -- and as a sophomore, he led the Gryphons to the Tennessee Division 2-A state title game, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a heartbreaking, last-second loss.
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