MANILA, Philippines – Bobby Ray Parks Jr evoked zeal and excitement as he talked about his first practice with the Philippine national men's basketball team in preparation for the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament from July 5 to 10.
On the court learning and re-acquianting himself with Gilas Pilipinas plays, the 23-year-old guard appeared motivated and committed.
"Nakaka-humble yung experience. Privilege talaga, katulad ng sabi nga ni coach, na makapasok lang sa pool (It's a humbling experience. It's a real privilege, as coach said, to simply be in the pool)," he said moments after walking off the court, still dripping with humid Manila sweat.
When asked whether he, if chosen as part of the final 12, was keen on facing a particular player – perhaps an NBA star – Parks instead emphasized the honor for him to simply wear the blue and white Pilipinas jersey.
"I'm looking forward to facing everybody. I'm excited just to have that Gilas label on me. It means a lot," he said. "To represent your country at the senior national team and be one of the youngest is a privilege."
"I’m ready," he added with a broad grin.
Parks, a former two-time UAAP MVP, has been home for two weeks already from the US where he spent the past year chasing his NBA dream by way of the D-League with the Texas Legends.
There he averaged 4.6 points, 0.8 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 13.3 minutes over 32 games, including several highlight performances.
There, too, he met trainer Tyrone Gordon, whom he said "took my game to the next level," and trained with him twice a day. Parks plans to fly Gordon into Manila to train with him in the next couple of months where he'll remain until the Qualifiers.
After that he has no concrete plans just yet but he is considering the NBA Summer League and already has a standing invitation from the Texas Legends to return next D-League season.
Parks, though, has made it clear he plans to make the final cut for Gilas. Head coach Tab Baldwin likewise clarified that when it comes to his 12-man lineup, even cadets are fair game.
"He looks good. I think he's a better player from what I saw today than the one that left," he said. "We're happy he's here. We're happy we have another international-caliber player in our pool of players in this country."
Parks looked right at home playing with his compatriots. Though he still committed errors in certain sets, he said he doesn't feel the need for a big adjustment – except, perhaps, when it comes to gripping the basketball.
"I came from playing with NBA guys so PBA (players) are the same thing as pros. I'm well-adjusted to it."
"Nahirapan ako sa grip ng basketball kaya I wear two sleeves para sa pawis (It's hard for me to grip the basketball so I wear two sleeves for my sweat)," he smiled.
Filipinos saw Parks represent them in the 2015 SEABA Championship, where the Philippines won gold and he was named MVP. He likewise helped the Philippine team win gold medals in the 2011 and 2013 Southeast Asian Games.
Ray Parks getting some shots in after #Gilas practice earlier today @ray15parks pic.twitter.com/KtmsC309IA — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) May 18, 2016
The athletic 6-foot-3 Parks seemed almost the same as when he last left – still comfortable and fluent in Filipino as ever. But one noticeable difference is his larger, bulkier frame, which he said benefitted him more than anything.
"Actually I feel more comfortable with my body right now, playing at 215 lbs instead of 205. At 205 I was easy to bump," he explained. "I just had to keep the weight on, 'cause I adjusted to the pace of the game and I play at my pace instead of just allowing everyone else to dictate me."
"I learned a lot throughout the year I was gone and bulking up I guess is part of maturity," he added.
His Gilas stint does not mean Parks is letting go of his NBA dream. The national team is one of his stepping stones toward it.
"Laking tulong neto para makapasok sa NBA. Yung dream ko nga is to make it to the NBA, pero hindi lang para sakin, pero para sa buong bayan," he said. "Maraming talented na players dito, kagaya ng nasa pool ng national team, talented sila and may chances sila. Gusto ko lang buksan yung eyes ng NBA sa Pilipinas."
(This is big for my dream to get into the NBA. My dream is to make it to the NBA, but that's not just for me, it's for the whole country. We have plenty of talented players here, like the ones in the pool of the national team, they're talented and they have chances. I want to open the NBA's eyes to the Philippines.) – Rappler.com