Kobe Paras and his Basketball Leap of Faith
In chasing his ultimate basketball dream, Kobe Paras has taken one leap of faith after another and the latest one has him back home in the Philippines.
Based from his first on-court appearance as a Bluejay, it appeared that Kobe Lorenzo Forster Paras was going to have a fruitful stint in Nebraska.
Playing in Creighton University’s lone fall exhibition game prior to the start of 2016-2017 US NCAA Division 1 season, Paras exhibited the type of performance that made him a three-star recruit out of high school from the Philippines via Los Angeles.
Against an overmatched Wayne State, Kobe performed solid for a Bluejays squad filled with veterans.
In 19 minutes, Kobe scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds, and issued one assist. As the Bluejays rolled to an impressive 93-46 win, the son of Philippine basketball legend Benjie even found time for a thunderous two-hand slam off his own steal.
Paras athleticism was on full display and it might have been his best overall game in a Creighton uniform.
Too bad the performance didn’t really count in the grand scheme of things.
LEAP/S OF FAITH
After deciding to move to the United States as a high school basketball phenom, Kobe was supposed to make it work unlike any Filipino prospect before him.
He had the pedigree, the raw talent, the perfect size, and the clear path to make it to the National Basketball Association.
If Kobe was to make it to the NBA, he had to blaze his trail in the US. He knew that. That’s why as a 15-year-old kid, he took that leap of faith, leaving his family behind to live on the other side of the world while chasing his ultimate basketball dream.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Paras said.
“Honestly, it was one of the greatest decisions I made in my life, to leave the Philippines and go to the US. The US has all the tools to create a good basketball player. When I was there in the US, I got trained like I never got trained before,” he added.
The first few years of his US adventure, it looked like Kobe’s path was getting clearer. Every dunk and every highlight only increased his intrigue as the “other Kobe in Los Angeles.”
In 2014, his path --- at least the first one --- to the NBA was set.
As a junior in Cathedral High School, Paras verbally committed to play for UCLA in college. After finishing his senior season at Middlebrooks Academy, Kobe was set to join the Bruins’ talented freshman core that also included five-star point guard Lonzo Ball out of Chino Hills.
Yes, that Ball boy who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA.
However, “due to academic conditions of his admission not being met,” Paras was forced to leave UCLA before his career as a Bruin even got the chance to properly take off.
“It was really a surprise for us and of course Kobe was really devastated. I was talking to him and honestly, he was crying,” Benjie told Steve Angeles of the ABS-CBN North America News Bureau two years ago regarding his son’s sudden development with UCLA.
Fortunately, Kobe didn’t have to miss his true freshman season as about five months after he officially left UCLA, he debuted for Creighton in the Bluejays’ lone Fall exhibition game. A week after that, he made his actual debut in the US NCAA Division 1.
Paras moving to Ohama, Nebraska to continue play basketball was one of young Kobe’s many, many leaps of faith in trying to chase his ultimate dream.
There was more to come.
Much like Creighton’s actual campaign that season, Kobe Paras’ stint as a Bluejay was largely forgettable.
Despite an early season surge, breaking into the top-10 of the AP college basketball rankings and losing the Big East title to defending national champion Villanova, Creighton failed to impress in the NCAA tournament, flaming out in the first round. Rhode Island, the team that eliminated the Bluejays, immediately got the boot in the Round of 32.
Kobe had it worse. The promise of his fall exhibition performance quickly evaporated as he was buried deep in the Creighton bench.
Paras took one full week into the season before he scored his first official basket. His best game for the Bluejays was probably that matchup against Longwood where he scored six points in 12 minutes.
By the end of his true freshman season, Kobe only appeared in 15 games, averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 rebounds.
By April of 2017, Paras already secured a scholarship release from Creighton and was ready to take another leap of faith.
Still, it’s not like Kobe was ungrateful for his time in Creighton. It just didn’t work out for both sides.
“I just took a chance,” Paras said on his move to Nebraska from sunny Los Angeles to join the Bluejays.
“As a freshman, I expected to play a lot,” he added according to a report from Beth Harris of the Associated Press. “We had a strong lineup of older guys and he [Creighton head coach Greg McDermott] believed in the older guys. Everything happens for a reason.”
A little over a week after his release from Creighton was made official, Kobe announced that he was committing to Cal State Northridge back in the west coast.
He was introduced as the latest member of the Matadors soon after.
In CSUN, Kobe was back in Los Angeles and he’s playing for Reggie Theus, the former Chicago Bull who tried to recruit Paras out of high school.
In his third collegiate team, it seemed that Paras was finally ready to take off.
Upon completing his redshirt season, Kobe was primed for a breakout season under Theus.
In fact, Theus, in his visit to Manila last year, even said that CSUN was going to win at least one Big West title with young Kobe as a featured player. The 6’7” former NBA player was confident he could unlock Paras’ true potential in the US.
“Kobe's got three years to play with me and I think in those three years we're gonna win the Big West in one of those three years for sure," Theus said.
“If you’re gonna play professionally, you have to have a niche. His niche in college basketball is athleticism,” Theus added of Paras. “Everybody is athletic in the NBA so as he gets further, he’s gotta develop a more consistent basketball shot. I’ll be able to work with his shot, he’s a little inconsistent with his jump shot. That’s really all he has to do, I think he has every other tool he needs. Defensively, he’s got a good mentality. I think his IQ is strong.”
In the meantime, Kobe went home, suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas in various tournaments including the FIBA 3x3 World Cup in France and the 2017 Jones Cup where the Philippines placed fourth.
Paras also earned a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games. Despite a rough start, including a minor spat with assistant coach Jimmy Alapag, he got better as the tournament went on. By the gold medal game, he was a key cog in the rotation despite being the youngest member of the team.
On March 9, 2018, Kobe issued a shocking announcement and said he was going to leave CSUN to go pro.
While he was practicing with the team, Paras never suited up as an official member of the Matadors, making CSUN the second school where his basketball journey ended before it even started.
The now 20-year-old combo guard said that the firing of Reggie Theus as head coach of CSUN triggered his sudden move.
After Theus was let go, Kobe was forced to make a difficult decision regarding his basketball future.
He chose to take yet another leap of faith.
“When I announced to go pro, it was because of my coach. Coach Reggie, he got fired. It was shocking to me that he got fired because I was ready to play. Since that happened, I had to make a decision to myself,” Paras said.
Theus’ exit from CSUN was the last straw for Kobe. It was the curveball that hit him straight to the face. The worst part in all of this is the fact that he never got to play basketball, which was the whole point of him going to the US.
Now that he’s decided to go pro, the first move was to come home.
“Last year my mind was just lost because I just left Creighton,” Kobe said.
“I think last year was my boiling point. In my mind, I was too pressured, at the same time I wanted to play. At least now I’m more open for everything,” he added.
Benjie Paras, who earned the nickname “The Tower of Power” in the PBA but is now mostly known for his amazingly perfect moniker “Papa Bear,” understands his son’s dilemma.
He knows because he took that leap of faith too when he chased his own basketball dream.
“During my time, I’m also 15 when my mom left and worked abroad, kinuha yung family ko and decided to go to Australia as immigrants. I said no, I was in high school and I’m going to pursue my dream. Lahat sila Australian citizen. I was alone when I was 15. They all went to Australia to migrate, ako di sumama,” the elder Paras said, recounting his own life story.
“Leap of faith ang ginawa ko, I don’t know what’s gonna happen to me. Ngayon ang problema, he [Kobe] went to Creighton, the coach promised to give him good playing time, but they didn’t. We decided, with his high school coach in Middlebrooks, to transfer to LA. Dati pa siya kinukuha ni Reggie Theus. Okay na sana eh, he’s ready and excited to play. Then the coach got fired,” he added.
Ultimately, Benjie says that the uncertainty in CSUN led Kobe to decide it was time to go.
The younger Paras didn’t want to waste any more time and Benjie, as a father and a former athlete himself, understood what his son was trying to do.
“Sabi niya, ‘dad hirap na ako,’” Benjie said.
“Sabi ko, sabihin mo kung ano gusto mo. Sabi niya, ‘I don’t want to play for the school, gusto ko na lang I want to play for Gilas,’ he’s very undecided, he doesn’t know what to do. Pinalamig ko [and then] uwi muna siya dito and whatever opportunities that will be given to him, as long as he can play, he’s going to take it. Sa akin kasi, naiintindihan ko. He waited for so long. I fully understand that the boy just wanted to play. You were there without your family and the only thing that will keep you going is playing. That’s the reason why you’re there, now you’re not playing and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” the elder Paras added.
“Kung nasa States siya, mabuburo lang siya dun. At least he can play and improve here.”
Regardless of what his detractors say, Kobe Paras is almost destined for primetime.
Brilliant basketball minds just know talent when they see it. UCLA saw it. Creighton saw it. Reggie Theus knew he could make it work. Chot Reyes is confident it could lead to something special.
Kobe Paras has just too much talent in his body. He just has to translate it into actual play on the basketball court.
He went to the US for that reason. It didn’t work out.
Kobe just wants to play and he’s coming home to do just that. What better way for him to do so than resuming his development with the Philippine national team.
“I’m just grateful to the opportunity. I’m always happy to represent my country,” Kobe said.
“Just like last year, I’m just gonna bring energy. That’s what I bring to the team. I see my teammates as brothers, I can’t wait to practice with them, build a bond, and hopefully, win,” Paras added.
In his son’s most latest leap of faith, Benjie is confident that Kobe can finally get it going.
The younger Paras has waited for so long. Now that he’s going to finally get his hands on the ball, it’s time to perform.
Wherever, whenever, Kobe just wants to play. That’s the whole point.
“At least mas okay na rito. He’s going to improve and he’s going to release yung sentiments niya in playing,” Benjie said of his son Kobe.
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