MANILA, Philippines – In his first practice with the Gilas Pilipinas Cadets on Monday night, Kobe Paras immediately displayed the talent and athleticism that made him a potential Division 1 player in the US NCAA.
Despite arriving in Manila early morning from the United States, Paras still went full throttle in practice together with other members of the "23 for 23" pool. The former La Salle Greenhills standout was attacking the basket, soaring for rebounds, and running the floor even as he dealt with jet lag.
He even showed off his range, ending the first scrimmage with a buzzer-beating triple.
"I feel great," Paras said after their training session wrapped up at the Meralco Gym. "When I play, I try not to think about fatigue or anything. I try to just face it, so I was tired for a bit but I just fought through it.
"It was a great practice, so I'm glad na madami rin kaming nagawa, and we're getting ready for our game on Saturday," he added.
Paras will lead the Gilas Cadets in their campaign in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Cup, which starts on Saturday against the reigning UAAP champion Ateneo de Manila University.
"I'm glad to be a part of the team, glad to have a chance to practice with the guys. I played against some of these guys, so it feels good na teammates na kami ngayon, especially since we're representing the country," said Paras.
Paras was a late inclusion to the Gilas Cadets team that will compete in the FilOil tournament. It was only last week that he decided to go home to the Philippines, after a tumultuous stretch in the US that saw him leave California State University, Northridge and declare that he was going to turn professional.
So far, the 20-year-old star has not signed with any professional team, as he wants to focus on his stint with the Cadets in the FilOil. There, Paras intends to take on a new role – that of a veteran who can help his younger teammates learn the Gilas system, as well as a "kuya" who can impart knowledge and advice to the less-experienced cadets.
"Whatever the coaches are doing, it's what they did with the other Gilas teams, so of course sanay na ako. And at least I can guide the others, kasi may mga mas bata din dito. At least I can guide them through the process," said Paras, who was the youngest member of the Gilas teams that competed in the Jones Cup and the Southeast Asian Games last year.
Now, he is one of the older members of the team – and certainly the one with most international experience.
"I can give knowledge to the young ones and I can help them naman, kasi mahirap din 'pag bata," said Paras.
"Sometimes they'll think may seniority, or parang they'll think of other stuff, because I've been there, so I know what they're thinking of. So at least now, pag nakikita ko, at least makakausap ko," he added.
Coach Jong Uichico, who will call the shots for the Cadets in the FilOil, is not putting too much pressure on Paras to take on a leadership role, however.
"We know naman that he's gifted, 'di ba?" Uichico said of the athletic swingman. "He can jump, he can shoot, he can put the ball on the floor."
"He's still young pa naman, so for sure his maturity will come in time. But 'yung sipag niya, 'yung aggressiveness niya, andiyan, and that's one part of it already," he added.
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