BOBBY Ray Parks, who has been UAAP basketball MVP the past two years, is on a mission to live up to the legacy of his legendary father and bring salvation to a long-suffering school.
His biggest test yet will come on Saturday.
All eyes will be on the son of the late great PBA import when National University takes on a peaking University of Santo Tomas team at the Mall of Asia Arena in a sudden-death game to decide De La Salle's opponent in the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball finals.
There has been no question that Parks is one of the most talented players in college basketball - a deadly left-handed shooter and an unstoppable slasher who has shown this season that he has the unselfish attitude to be the ideal team leader.
But the lone game beginning at 4 p.m. will, more than anything else, measure how big Parks' heart is.
In the days that followed the UST Tigers' 71-62 win that dragged the twice-to-beat and top-seeded Bulldogs to a do-or-die match, Parks has found himself taunted by UST coach Pido Jarencio and labeled a 'cry baby' by critics after complaining about Kevin Ferrer's physical defense.
[For full story, see Pido on Parks' complaint: Dapat alam mo kung ano laro dito sa Pilipinas]
In the face of the media frenzy, Parks has largely kept his silence, answering Jarencio's comments with only a cryptic one liner: "See you on Saturday."
Now, fans will get to see on Saturday if Parks has the heart to match his immense talent as he attempts to lead the Bulldogs past the growling, hungry Tigers and into their first finals appearance in 43 years.
Amid all the hoopla, however, Parks has decided to keep his focus on the game, saying the Bulldogs will have to be tougher both physically and mentally if they hope to avoid a meltdown similar to Game One.
That should start with him.
“We just have to play stronger and tougher physically and mentally,” Parks said.
The two-time league MVP also sees the need for the Bulldogs to dictate the tempo from the get-go and stand their ground against a physical Tigers defense that bumped him at every turn and held him to 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting the last time out.
“We were just rattled on defense and they came out strong. They set the tempo of the game. We just have to come out with a sense of urgency,” Parks said.
The third-year player said he is ready for battle, insisting the wrist injury and the sprained pinkie finger he incurred last weekend won't be an issue come Saturday.
“For my team, we just have to be focused," he said. "We can’t come out relaxed anymore.”