KUALA LUMPUR — For Kobe Paras, the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur offered plenty of lessons, as much as it solidified his standing as the breakout star of Gilas Pilipinas.
In a squad full of former collegiate superstars and up-and-coming PBA standouts, Paras was the absolute crowd favorite every night at the MABA Stadium, perhaps rivaled only by Filipino-German teammate Christian Standhardinger.
Paras was greeted with ovations every time he entered the court, and fans chanted his name sporadically during games as if to encourage the Gilas coaching staff to send him in. Whenever he was on the court, he never failed to entertain, rising high for slam dunks or for emphatic blocks; Paras was good for at least two highlight-reel worthy plays each game.
In their last game on Saturday night against Indonesia, Paras shone once more, making all six of his shots – including a three-pointer – for 14 points. In the fourth period, his first dunk was nullified, so he proceeded to throw down the ball again in the very next possession
"I'm just happy, because this game is how we should have played the whole tournament," Paras said after their 94-55 win. "But it happens, and there's not a perfect game. I'm just happy that we got a gold."
Paras, who entertained requests for selfies and autographs all the way to the team bus, said he is not putting too much stock into his status as the undisputed breakout star of Gilas Pilipinas in the SEA Games.
"I don't really focus on star players or whatever, just because basketball is a team sport," he said. "There's no 'I' in the word team. I wouldn't be playing the way I am without my teammates."
Instead, Paras said he will focus on the lessons that he has learned in his second stint with the national team, following an uneventful appearance in the Jones Cup.
"I faced a lot of adversity," he said, referring to his lack of playing time in the Jones Cup as well as the injury that he suffered heading into the SEA Games. "I just have to accept my role."
"As you can see, in the second, third, fourth game, and last game, I did good. I think it's just about timing," he said. "Even though I'm young, it doesn't mean I can't play. So, the opportunities I get, I need to take the most out of it."
"I can't just be whining about why I'm not playing," Paras added. "It's on me to put in the work, to put in the effort, and to play well."
With Paras now set to head back to the US for his collegiate basketball career, Gilas coach Jong Uichico hopes that the young player can take heart from his performance in the SEA Games.
"He's a fast learner," Uichico said of Paras. "I just hope when he gets back to the States, he gets to play, and he gets to really be coached. It was a pleasure coaching him. He's very coachable. He's still young, and he has a lot to learn."
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