The National University Bulldogs, once the league’s perennial cellar-dwellers, are enjoying their run in Season 75 of the UAAP, making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
They owe most of their success to their main man, Bobby Ray Parks Jr.
“I just want to honor and praise God the best way I can, given the time I have,” said 19-year old, the son of legendary PBA import Bobby Parks, of his success.
The younger Parks’ mature outlook on life could perhaps be attributed to the tragedy he suffered prior to the start of the season. His girlfriend, Maan Panganiban, a former News5 sports reporter, passed away due to lymphoma last January.
At the start of the UAAP season, Parks took to wearing a shirt with the words “I Love Maan” during warmups, in honor of his lost love.
“She’s been a big part of my life… and she really was an influence to me,” said Parks of Panganiban, with whom he was in a relationship for 15 months.
And even though she’s gone, she remains in his mind and in his heart, even at the most crucial junctures of the UAAP campaign, when he would point skyward after making big plays.
“That was to God and Maan. Every game that I play and every time I step out on the court, I just want to dedicate it to them,” he said.
Parks added that he feels the presence of his late girlfriend even off the court, at his most trying moments.
“She just protected me off the court when it comes to either the media or hecklers. She really was there for me. She loved me more than she loved herself.”
His approach toward Panganiban’s loss and the subsequent turn of events for NU are perhaps a reflection of his father’s greatest lesson to him — to turn anything that’s negative into something positive.
Parks would once again need the inspiration when the UAAP final four begins, as the third-seeded Bulldogs face the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers on Saturday. UST holds the twice-to-beat advantage over NU.
But Parks is already thankful for the feat.
“God has His own purpose for the team. It was definitely great for the basketball team, but for the school also. It’s bringing back school pride.”