MANILA, Philippines -- Kobe Paras ticked one item off his bucket list on Tuesday night after he was named to the Philippines' line-up for the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia in August.
Paras has made no secret of his desire to play for the country in the SEA Games, even mentioning the tournament during his introductory press conference for Cal State Northridge last month.
At the time, he was not yet a member of the Gilas Pilipinas pool, making his inclusion to the SEAG team unlikely.
On June 9, however, coach Chot Reyes revealed that he, along with Kiefer Ravena, have been called up to the national team pool. Both were eventually included in the SEA Games line-up; Paras is one of the SEAG first-timers in the squad, while Ravena is making his fourth appearance in the biennial competition.
"Masaya naman, just because I have another chance to represent the country," said Paras, who is just coming off his first senior team appearance for the Philippines in the 2017 FIBA 3x3 World Cup in France.
"Ilang years na ako sa States and the only time na napapanood ko yung Gilas is sa TV lang. At least, being a part of it na and showing the people na kaya ko na, it’s a great feeling kasi iba talaga pag nare-represent yung country," said the 19-year-old Paras, the youngest member of the Gilas pool.
In the SEA Games, Paras will find himself teaming up with players that he looked up to as an athletic prospect from La Salle Greenhills, before he took his talents to Los Angeles and eventually the US NCAA.
"Nung nandito pa ako, bata pa ako, napapanood ko silang lahat sa college. It’s a great feeling that the people I look up to, magiging teammates ko na," he said.
The incoming CSUN Matador vows that he will make the most of the opportunity to represent the Philippines, especially after having already worn national team colors as a youngster and thus knowing how special the experience is.
"Kahit ano, gagawin ko para sa bayan. I’m playing for Gilas. Di ako naglalaro para sa college ko," he said. "It’s a different feeling when you're representing the country. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing so I’m happy to be a part of the roster."
His upcoming SEA Games stint also gives Paras an opportunity to showcase his improvement since he left for the United States. The 6-foot-6 guard showed flashes of brilliance in the 3x3 World Cup, but the SEA Games will be another matter entirely.
"It's not my first international experience, (but) this level is harder than (any) I've ever been in," Paras acknowledged.
"(But) I've been in the States for a long time, and parang parehas na sa international sa States, kasi lahat ng tao, malalaki at mabibilis," he added. "At least now, I’ll have an opportunity to prove myself and represent the country."
Meanwhile, Reyes said that he is banking on Paras to be the leader of the Philippines' "youth brigade," which is one of the reasons that he included the teenager in the SEA Games team.
"One thing we want from Kobe is his age. We wanted him to get used to the way men are playing, to get exposed to the elite basketball," Reyes explained.
"We are building a program, and part of that is the youth," he added. "Kobe, I think, is going to be the front-runner of that youth brigade."
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