Earlier this month, Kobe Paras took Philippine basketball by storm with his decision to commit to the UP Fighting Maroons.
The move was bold as it was surprising for one of the best young talents the country has today. Last March, Paras initially declared he was going to turn pro in the wake of the firing of his college coach. He then went home to the Philippines and suited up for the Gilas Cadets in the 12th FilOil Flying V Preseason Cup. Once the summer tournament was over, there was hardly any idea of where the high-flying forward was headed next.
And then came the decision to go back to college with the University of the Philippines.
In an exclusive interview with Jinno Rufino on SportsCenter Philippines on Friday, Paras laid bare his thought process of returning to school and playing for the Fighting Maroons.
"This decision was my decision, no one else had something to do with it," Paras said confidently. "So for me this decision was more about maturity and what was best for me in the situation."
Paras recalled that when he first returned to the Philippines, he consulted with Ronald Mascariñas of Chooks-to-Go. The sports patron in turn advised him to go back to school.
"Boss Ronald is a great entrepreneur, whatever he says I trust," he shared. "So it was more of maturity, and the people out there supporting me really told me to go back to school and it makes more sense. I haven't been here in the Philippines for a while and I have a lot of friends in the UAAP."
At only 20 years old, going back to college and temporarily delaying his professional career may seem like the wise choice. And of all the schools in the Philippines, picking UP was a decision just as prudent as there is already a deep connection for Paras since his father Benjie was one of the catalysts in the Fighting Maroons' last UAAP championship in 1986.
"Check the background, they haven't really won that much titles, since my dad actually. So I think for me joining this team is just like rebuilding a brand-new UP," he explained. "And you can see with the players we have and this year we have a time to reconnect, to build chemistry, that's why I can't wait for season 82."
By the time Paras will be eligible to play after his one-year residency, he will join other well-known collegiate stars in Bright Akhuetie, Ricci Rivero, and Juan Gomez de Liaño. Looking at the roster alone, the team has become an overnight contender.
"Me as a player, as a person, I don't really have that much expectations," Paras said, downplaying any immediate success.
"Especially for this team, I would love to focus on chemistry first, getting to know each other, because it's better to play with a brotherhood, or with a team that feels like everyone's connected rather than knowing 'Oh he's good at this, he's good at that, that's a super team," he added.
All eyes have been on Paras this month because of his commitment to UP, but there are more opportunities he can pursue. In light of the recent suspensions of several Gilas Pilipinas players after the brawl with Australia, the Gilas Cadet said that he's open to the challenge of playing for the country if needed.
"I'm just a call away and I'm just here. It's a different feeling if you play for the country and I've been doing it ever since so I wouldn't mind represent the country," he proudly said.
As a parting message on SportsCenter, Paras had a piece of advice for the much-talked about Kai Sotto. The 7-foot-1 Batang Gilas phenom has certainly made headlines for his international play and has sparked debate on whether he not he should pursue a career abroad. Paras of course is no stranger to this situation having gone to the United States when he was just a 15-year-old kid, almost the same age as Sotto is now.
"Do what makes you happy. Doesn't matter if you're here or in the States, just know that there are people who are going to support you," he said about the next big thing in Philippine basketball. He also insisted, "I just want everyone to have opportunities. So if Kai has the opportunity, I'll tell him to chase it but at the same time go for what makes you happy."
From one young rising talent to another, Paras simply wants Sotto to follow his heart. And by the looks of it, Paras' decision to play for UP is something that makes him at peace.