The soon to be 22-year-old son of Benjie Paras and Jackie Forster is just thankful he has another crack at college and basketball after three failed attempts in the US. Photograph by Vyn Radovan
Drive Sports and Fitness

Kobe Paras on the rebound: "I'm just happy to be given another chance in life and basketball"

For years, many have expected much from Benji Paras' wunderkind son. But the young baller's collegiate career became a story of missed opportunities, disappointments, and mental health struggles. As he makes a fresh start at his father's alma mater, he says that greatness is far from his mind. 
Josh Buenaventura | Sep 18 2019

Kobe Paras has learned over the years not to give a damn about whatever people say about him, what he does, or his team.

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“A lot of people talk. But I always remind my guys to just focus on us. We’re the ones playing, not the people talking,” says the soon to be 22-year-old forward. “Social media brings a lot of people down. That’s the problem with people nowadays. They always want to judge and put hierarchy amongst people.”

But with Paras’ basketball journey being so long and bumpy, he probably cannot avoid being a conversation point. Three days ago, he finally played his first UAAP game under State U, the alma mater of his father, PBA great Benjie Paras. This debut, delayed by an ankle injury earlier in the month, was closely watched, weighed down by the young man’s many career stops and starts.

Having gone through mental struggles himself, Paras now strongly advocates addressing depression and anxiety among today's youth. Photograph by Vyn Radovan

While some commentators may argue that the team has not played to expectations in its first few games—some even describe the team as looking “lost”—Paras played big by any standard, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds, an assist, a steal and two blocks.

The school is still on the rise in the eyes of many fans. With Paras joining a team that includes last season’s MVP Bright Akhuetie, the Gomez De LiaƱo brothers, Jun Manzo, and former Green Archer Ricci Rivero, a lot of people say that the squad is stacked with individual talent, and is enough cause for optimism that the 32-year-title drought is near its end.

 

Great expectations

Benjie was part of the team that last brought basketball glory to the school more than three decades ago. It's no surprise that Filipinos are quick to put pressure on his 6-foot-6 son. It’s been the case since 2013, when the younger Paras last played for his high school La Salle Greenhills before taking a risk and venturing into an unfortunately unsuccessful collegiate stint in the United States.

He left the country that year to transfer to Cathedral High School in Los Angeles for a year, playing for their basketball team, the Phantoms. He would later finish his high school in Middlebrooks Academy for the 2015-2016 academic year.

It was during his time there that he decided to join the University of California Los Angeles, intending to suit up for the Bruins, their men’s basketball team in NCAA Division 1 under then-head coach Steve Alford.

Paras had 20 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks in last Sunday's game. Photograph by Keith Magcaling

Unfortunately, that dream did not pan out, as he officially withdrew from his commitment to the school in June 2016. The school stated that he wasn’t able to meet their academic requirements.

Paras then found his way to Nebraska, where he played for the Creighton University Bluejays for one season. He was the first Filipino ever to join them. But he experienced another bump in the road as he withdrew in less than a year, leaving on April 29, 2017.

A little over two weeks later, he announced his commitment to Cal State Northridge to play for former NBA player Reggie Theus and his Matadors. But Theus was dismissed 10 months later, so Paras decided to leave once again and announced he was starting his professional basketball career. He never played one game for the Matadors.

By July 2018, he made the surprising announcement that he signed up with Bo Perasol’s team.

 

Maroon homecoming

While his collegiate basketball life has been rocky, his various stints representing the Philippines has been constant. From 2013 to 2017, he participated in various FIBA competitions, playing for the U-16 SEABA team, FIBA Asia U-18 squad, and the 2013 & 2015 FIBA 3x3 U-18 World Championships. His last ride as a national was in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games where he won gold with the men’s team.

But Paras is just grateful to be able to play in the UAAP after all the setbacks. “This is my fourth college, so I’m just happy that God gave me another chance, not just in basketball but in life,” he shares. “I’m just happy I’m playing with my teammates I consider as brothers and getting coached by these coaches every day.”

Paras finally got to share the court with his teammates as the Fighting Maroons took part in the 2019 Buddha Light International Association Cup in Taiwan. There, they went up against different universities from all over the globe. He spearheaded their championship run, with a scoring average of 19.6 and capping it off with a 37-point outing in the Finals against Chien Hsin University. His tournament performance earned him an MVP award.

Paras led the Maroons to an 83-82 victory in his UAAP Debut. Photograph by Keith Magcaling

But his focus isn’t on hardware right now, but playing the game that he loves and finding a way to gel with his team. “I’m not looking to surpass last season’s success just like that. I don’t look at that stuff. I just play my game, create great chemistry with my teammates, and have fun,” he admits. “You can’t really find good friendships these days because there’s a lot of fake people. I’m glad that I could be real with all of these guys.”

Paras also doesn’t like looking at the past, both his or even his dad’s. For him, that championship in 1986 is what it is. “This is a new team. A lot of people think it’s easy for us players to just come in and produce. We’re not like Ateneo, their players have been with each other ever since,” he elaborates after their Sunday game. “I’m just glad we have games like this because it brings us together.”

Immediately after that wild game, Paras reiterated how thankful he is to UP, and that he is still in the process of developing and fixing himself after everything. He mentioned how serious anxiety and depression are, having experienced it himself during that rough patch in the US.

“I had to go through a lot of mental issues. As athletes, we’re human beings as well. I just want a fresh start in a new school,” he says. Today, he just uses the pressure as motivation. “A lot of people out there would die to be given my opportunity,” he says, adding that a lot of student-athletes know how it feels to try and try and not get the chance.

“I used to be a hothead, trying to hold my temper and stuff. But that’s one thing I’m trying to fix now and be a better player, a better person," the rejuvenated athlete shares. "That’s what basketball is about.”