MANILA, Philippines -- Though he's still just 23 years old, Kobe Paras will be the elder statesman of the young Gilas Pilipinas squad that will compete in the second window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers later this month.
Paras was named to the 16-man Gilas Pilipinas pool that also included Isaac Go, Juan Gomez De Liaño, Matt Nieto, and Dwight Ramos -- all of whom played in the first qualifying window in February. Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame was also part of the pool but is unlikely to suit up as his naturalization is still pending.
According to coach Ryan Gregorio, the special assistant to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio, Paras will be seen as one of the veterans of the squad, given his experience in international competition.
"We're counting on him in terms of veteran leadership," Gregorio said of Paras during a recent appearance on "2OT." "Of course, his track record is also exemplary, having represented our country in a lot of international competition."
Paras has worn national team colors several times, in both 3x3 and 5-on-5 events. In the junior level, he played in the 2013 and 2015 FIBA 3x3 Under-18 World Cup, and in the 2017 FIBA 3x3 World Cup. These events were his coming out party as he won the Slam Dunk competitions in 2013 and 2015.
Paras has also played for the senior team in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, helping them bring home the gold in Kuala Lumpur.
"Itong si Kobe Paras is one of the best young guys in the Philippines right now, and with the right direction and the right, for example -- the system that he plays in is apt to the style that he's used to playing, I'm sure he will be a slam dunk," said Gregorio.
"It is very important that we put in players that have been there before and players that have the experience at a high level. Lahat 'yan, meron si Kobe," he added.
Paras is coming off his first season in the UAAP with University of the Philippines, where he made the Mythical Team and helped the Fighting Maroons reach the Final 4 for the second consecutive season.
In his first year with UP, he averaged 17.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Paras and the rest of Gilas Pilipinas are bracing for a difficult schedule in the qualifiers. They will play in a bubble in Manama, Bahrain along with other teams in Group A -- South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia.
The Philippines play Thailand on November 26 and November 30, and South Korea on November 28.
They currently have a 1-0 record in the group after routing Indonesia, 100-70, in February.