The lost boy of the Class of 2011
Bobby Ray Parks Jr. signed with Georgia Tech, then opted to play in the Philippines
New coach Brian Gregory: "It's the strangest recruiting situation I've ever seen"
Ga. Tech's likely to grant Parks his release, but will he ever play again in the U.S.?
Is it possible for an elite recruit to disappear? When Rivals.com posted its final top 150 for the Class of 2011 this week, two players were listed as committed to Georgia Tech: Three-star forward Julian Royal, an Atlanta-area prospect who was wooed by former coach Paul Hewitt but vowed to stick with the program under new coach Brian Gregory, and three-star guard Bobby Ray Parks Jr., whose hometown is labeled as Memphis. He signed a National Letter of Intent with the Yellow Jackets on Nov. 22, 2010, and the school issued an official press release about it that day. That much is certain. Whether Parks will end up in Atlanta -- or back in the United States -- is not.
After Gregory left Dayton to take the Georgia Tech job on March 28, he had difficulty in contacting Parks. The 6-foot-4 lefty was spending his senior year of high school in Manila, where he was born to an American father and Filipino mother; he had grown up there prior to moving to the U.S. at the age of 13. There were e-mails exchanged about the possibility of releasing Parks from his NLI so he could re-open his recruitment. But as of Wednesday, one month after being hired, Gregory had yet to reach Parks or his father by phone despite multiple attempts. New coaches lose inherited recruits all the time; they just tend to go to other programs, not incommunicado in Southeast Asia.
Although members of Hewitt's former staff warned that Parks might not return to the U.S. this year, Gregory says "it's the strangest recruiting situation I've ever seen, and I've been doing this for more than 20 years." An Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog called the Parks situation a "mystery." What became of Bobby Ray Parks Jr., the lost boy of the Class of 2011?
This is what happened: After SI.com wrote about Parks at a 2009 high school all-star camp in Philadelphia, he played his junior year at Melrose High in Memphis, winning a state title alongside Adonis Thomas, the No. 1 recruit in all of Tennessee. In the summer of 2010, Parks' father, Bobby Ray Sr., a former Memphis State star who's a basketball legend in the Philippines, having been named the PBA's "best import" player a record seven straight times from 1987-93, took a job as the sports development director at National University in Manila. He took Parks Jr. along and enrolled him in home-schooling. Parks Sr. was also in the middle of a four-year battle with laryngeal cancer, and while he received successful treatment on his malignant tumor, his son remained with him in Manila.
By late 2010, Parks Jr. obtained the credits necessary to enroll at National University as a freshman, and began starring for its basketball team, the Bulldogs, in offseason tournaments. He's expected to lead them in the 2011 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) season that runs from July through October. Breathless commenters on a story from a recent game in which Parks Jr. scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists said that he should be nicknamed "the phenom" and was playing like a "mini LeBron." While Rivals ranks Parks Jr. as the No. 117 prospect in his class, he is easily the most dominant 18-year-old in the Philippines.
An NCAA spokesperson told SI.com that if Parks Jr. wants to play Division I in the future, he'd be treated like a college transfer rather than a recruit, meaning that he'd have to sit out one full season before taking the floor. He could apply for a transfer waiver due to the circumstances of his departure from the U.S.; Parks Sr. says that had his employment situation not necessitated going abroad, his son would have remained in Memphis, on track to enroll at Georgia Tech. As it stands, Parks Jr. has not yet submitted any paperwork to the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse.
"I hope you'll write something positive about him," Parks Sr. said of his son in a phone conversation from Manila. "He's made a lot of sacrifices to move over here."
Gregory said that Georgia Tech would be willing to grant Parks Jr. a release from his letter of intent, and seemed resigned to him never being a Yellow Jacket. "I just feel like it's too far gone," Gregory said. "It's going to be an exciting process getting this [program] back on track, and I need guys with both feet in -- or at least both feet on this continent."
Parks Sr. said he hoped Georgia Tech would remain in the recruiting picture, and asked an SI.com writer for Gregory's phone number on Thursday. Parks Jr., who did not answer calls for this story, indicated on his Facebook page that other schools were in the mix: In a conversation thread with Adonis Thomas, Parks Jr. said he wanted to look at Louisville and Marquette in addition to the Yellow Jackets. In a recent Filipino TV interview this year, Parks Jr. declined to lay out his U.S. college plans, saying he'd "rather take it one step at a time."
Exactly when Parks Jr. would be available to play in D-I is unclear. If he left the Philippines this winter and enrolled in a U.S. college for the second semester, he could be ready to suit up as early as December 2012. In the eyes of the NCAA, Parks Jr.'s "five-year clock" began when he enrolled in classes at National University in 2010, meaning he'd have to use his four years of college eligibility by 2014-15.
The numbers Parks Jr. posted at the Nike Global Challenge in Hillsboro, Ore., last August suggest that he can contribute at a high-level D-I program. As the lead guard on the All-Asia team, Parks Jr. averaged 22.0 points on 44.4 percent three-point shooting, and got to the free-throw line 8.7 times per game while playing against American teams that included blue-chippers Anthony Davis (who's bound for Kentucky), Bradley Beal (Florida), and a Brazilian team that included potential first-round pick Lucas Nogueira. "That was when Ray really blew up," Parks Sr. said. "We're hoping that, down the road, if he's lucky enough, he'll be the first Filipino to have a shot at the NBA."
Parks Jr. has been invited to train with Smart-Gilas, the Filipino senior national team, and it's a near-guarantee that he'll make a huge impact in the UAAP. His choice to play for National University, the smallest (at just under 1,400 students) and most athletically downtrodden (it's in the midst of a record 56-year title drought in basketball) of the league's eight schools, is no coincidence. In 2008, the family of shopping mall magnate Henry Sy, whom Forbes called "the richest man in the Philippines" with a net worth of $2.7 billion, acquired a 60 percent stake in National University, and has since invested in upgrading its academic and athletic profile. In part, that meant hiring a respected basketball coach, Eric Altamirano, the former head of the Filipino U-18 and U-16 national teams, bringing in Parks Sr. as a development consultant, and landing Parks Jr. as a prize recruit. In a YouTube clip of a Filipino sports-talk show from early 2011, Parks Sr. says "Ray['s addition to the Bulldogs] was never involved" in the discussion of him taking a job at NU. Nevertheless, his son has the potential to transform the school into an overnight contender in basketball.
Gregory, meanwhile, will have to turn elsewhere to reinforce a Yellow Jackets team that went 13-18 (and 5-11 in the ACC) last season and could be losing its best guard, junior Iman Shumpert, who declared for the draft without hiring an agent. Gregory is supporting him through the process, but also believes Shumpert could have an "All-American-type" senior year if he returns. Tech's backcourt will be hurting without him -- and Parks Jr. could have helped. "He probably would have had an opportunity to come in here and play as a freshman," Gregory said. "But I don't blame them [for not communicating]. I think they had made the decision long before I got here that he was going to stay in the Philippines this year."
Various Filipino media reports support that theory, including a Philippine Star article from January that said Parks Jr. wasn't accepting the Georgia Tech offer, and quotes Parks Sr. saying that his son will play at least two seasons at NU. But there is little clarity on Parks Jr.'s future: Multiple other D-I teams, according to sources, have remained in contact with him in hopes that he'll come back stateside sooner.
Georgia Tech seems unlikely to stay in that hunt. At one point during a phone conversation Wednesday, Gregory apologized and said, "Can I call you right back? I have a recruit on the other line who's not in the Philippines."