Keeping up with Kobe | Inquirer Sports

Keeping up with Kobe

Hailed as the future of the Gilas program, Kobe Paras has Philippine basketball at his feet. But the 6-foot-6 star feels he’s got more to offer than just his hardcourt skills
By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 05:27 AM July 16, 2017

Kobe Paras walks out of Gilas Pilipinas practice wearing a loose, colorful air-cool basketball shorts under a vintage black shirt. The teenage basketball sensation had slipped into a pair of dirty white Vans sneakers, before putting on a light brown leather backpack and a yellow cap.

There’s an air of swag as the 6-foot-6, 19-year-old leaves the gym. His looks depict his personality—young, creative and carefree. Make no mistake about it, Kobe puts so much thought into his style, just like the way he works on his game.

“I’m trying to make wearing basketball shorts a new trend,” says Kobe. “It’s different. You don’t see this everyday and I love vintage shirts.”

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Kobe’s eyes light up when he talks about fashion. His Instagram feed is equal parts basketball, fashion and family.

“I was in LA (Los Angeles) and that’s where it started,” says Kobe on his interest in fashion. “Everyday in LA is a fashion show. You don’t really need to dress to impress, but when you dress good you feel good. But that’s just me, I just like to stand out.”

As the son of former PBA Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Benjie Paras, basketball excellence runs in Kobe’s blood. The high expectations come with the territory as he is part of basketball royalty in this hoops-mad country.

Kobe moved to California four years years ago to take his game to the next level. As one of the top high school talents in Los Angeles, he was recruited to play for University of California in LA (Ucla), where he could have teamed up with current Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. But Kobe withdrew his application as he failed to meet academic requirements.

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Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, came calling, but Kobe hardly saw time on the court for the Blue Jays in his first NCAA season, leading to his decision to transfer to California State University-Northridge.

“I didn’t play much last season, so that still fuels me to play and want to prove something,” he says. “I still have three more playing years and four more years in college, so I’m going to take it year by year, day by day.”

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As he waits for the start of the school year in the United States, Kobe is keeping himself busy representing the country, most recently in the Fiba 3×3 World Cup in Nantes, France. He is expected to play a key role for Gilas in both the ongoing Jones Cup in Taipei and the Southeast Asian Games next month in Kuala Lumpur.

At Gilas, Kobe has the opportunity to showcase his talents. He’s been hailed by coach Chot Reyes as the future of the national team program and he has responded with flashes of stellar play in Gilas’ tuneup games.

“I’ve told Kobe that he’s going to be a big part of the future of Philippine basketball,” Reyes says. “But in the meantime, he has to be more patient, not to get too hard on himself, let the game come to him, and continue to learn and to grow. It’s the first time he’s been exposed to this level of competition. This will go a long way in his development and maturity and I have very high hopes because his talent and potential are limitless.”

Kobe says the feedback from Reyes comes in handy as he works on his game. “I’m just glad that coach keeps it real,” he says. “Sometimes I try to do too much and Kiefer (Ravena) and the guys tell me that I don’t have to prove anything. It just lifts me that I have teammates who understand my situation.”

He has plenty of time. And with coaches like Reyes and Gilas legend Jimmy Alapag guiding him in the national team, he’s in a perfect environment to grow as a player. “I’m the type of player who doesn’t care who I go up against,” says Kobe. “I just want to give my all playing my own game, but coach tells me to relax a bit.”

Says Alapag: “I think he’s the youngest of the group, and anytime you’re the youngest, there’s an opportunity to learn and just to continue to improve. I know he has not played enough the last year and a half, but I think being part of the [Gilas] program gives him that opportunity. Getting some tough competition will serve him as well through his time in college.”

Kobe’s talent is undeniable. His size and athleticism make him an asset for the national team. But what stands out is Kobe’s work ethic, says Alapag.

“Obviously, he’s very talented,” says Alapag. “I didn’t realize how big a 6-6 kid he was until he got here. He’s coming in and excited to get to learn and do the work. Hard work is the foundation of any good player.”

Kobe is just delighted to be representing the country and shows a deep understanding of what it means to wear the country’s colors, thanks to his father.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says. “There are a lot of players my age who want to be in this position. My dad keeps reminding me, ‘Every time you wear that jersey and play, you’re not just fighting for the people, you’re fighting for the soldiers who fight for freedom, too.’”

Off the court, Kobe describes himself as “ambitious.” While he plans to take up fashion or art-related courses in college he has also taken an interest in culinary arts.

“I love to cook,” he says. “I love to play the guitar. I love fashion. There’s just a bunch of stuff that I want to do. People think I’m just about basketball. There are people who tend to take basketball outside the court and I don’t think I need that because I’m also interested in other things.”

Kobe says his style is a mix of urban and high fashion, and considers basketball stars Russel Westbrook and Nick Young as his fashion icons. The teenager also harbors dreams of doing his internship in some of the world’s top fashion firms like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

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“It’s exciting what the future holds,” he says.

Philippine basketball will be watching Kobe Paras grow, but there will be more to him than just his talents on the court.

TAGS: Gilas Pilipinas, Kobe Paras

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