KUALA LUMPUR — As the youngest member of the Philippine national basketball team, Kobe Paras did not expect to play heavy minutes in the Southeast Asian Games here.
Indeed, the 19-year-old Paras has repeatedly said that his job is to provide energy for Gilas Pilipinas, be it through playing brief minutes while key teammates take a breather, or cheering his lungs out from the bench.
On Tuesday, however, with Gilas playing basketball minnow Myanmar, the coaching staff unleashed the high-flying Paras, and to the delight of the Filipino fans that packed the MABA Stadium, he did not disappoint.
From dunks, to assists, to blocks, Paras was all over the stat sheet against Myanmar. He soared high for a transition slam off a feed from Christian Standhardinger; later in the game, he returned the favor by passing to the Fil-German big man for a two-handed dunk.
When the dust settled, Paras played 27 minutes and six seconds, the most in the team, and scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, to go along with eight rebounds, four assists, seven steals, and four blocked shots.
"I feel great," Paras, who came into the game as a reserve, said afterward. "I've been waiting for an opportunity like this. I'm thankful that coach Jong (Uichico) and coach Jimmy (Alapag) gave me the opportunity."
"Hopefully, it may spread for the whole tournament, because I missed playing," he added. "It's been a while since I played, and I'm just happy that I was able to show my worth again."
Paras' stint with Gilas Pilipinas in the Jones Cup was a forgettable one, and he will most likely play spot minutes again for the rest of the national team's schedule in the SEA Games. Even after a dominant performance against Myanmar, Uichico was non-committal about his youngest player's minutes.
"We want to give him major minutes (vs. Myanmar) so he can get the experience also. I know he's not playing a lot of minutes, but that's just the way it is," said Uichico. "We'll see in the next games."
What's for sure, however, is that no matter how long or short Paras plays, he has already become a fan favorite here.
Fans already chant his name whenever he is subbed into the game, and they track his every move inside the court, anticipating the moment when he will come up with a steal and a leap for a slam dunk.
The 19-year-old Paras takes this kind of adoration in stride.
"I've been getting that since I was a kid," he said. "I'm just pretty blessed to have a fanbase, and people who support me like that at such a young age."
"There are a lot of people out there who would wish to have that, and you know, God blessed me with it. I never bragged about it, I never talk about it because it's a part of who I am and I'm just lucky to be blessed with it," he added.
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