Gilas Pilipinas coach, Chot Reyes looked at his bench for the nth time again. A handful of Filipino crowd chanted loudly in the background. “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe…”
There was a hint of hesitation from the coach, however, he obliged with the crowd as he called Kobe Paras to the scorer’s table. It was already a won ballgame against the host team, Chinese Taipei A in the 39th William Jones cup tournament.
With less than 2 minutes left in the game, Kobe played scrappy minutes and blocked two shots as the lead ballooned all the way to 16 points before the buzzer mercilessly ended.
However, it did not mattered much to the crowd. They are just happy to see Kobe playing, even if he was just running around the court doing nothing. This has been a blessing and a curse for the 19-year old cager.
With the emergence of social media, online games and smart phones a normal 15 year-old teen would slack off all day until something meaningful happens. It was 2013, and the young 15-year old Kobe Paras had a different mindset that day. He was part of NBA’s four time MVP, Lebron James Nike invitational tour.
As the usual warmup started. Everyone was in awe with Lebron standing right around the rim. Kobe felt he had to do something special that day. Moreover, as the ball went into his hands, he raced towards the rim and with James noticing his acceleration; Lebron tried to swipe Kobe’s hands but came too late as Kobe went down with a thunderous slam.
From that moment, Kobe was inside a microscope, with every move and details people are so keen on hearing anything from the boy in the Philippines who dunked on Lebron James.
Kobe went states side and led Middlebrooks Academy in high school to a 23-4 record with one 42-point performance game. UCLA readily offered him a scholarship, but before he could wear the Bruins jersey, the school declined his studentship. Kobe instead went to Creighton in an uneventful season scoring an average of 1.43 points and playing measly five minutes.
Everything becomes critical, and one bad season means this is going to be the end of Kobe ever going to the NBA. Somehow, Paras represented the dreams of over a hundred million Filipino basketball-loving fans who fantasized of playing in the NBA someday. Still at a tender age of 19, Kobe is carrying a nation’s hope and dreams. Putting enormous pressure right into his lanky shoulders. Kobe, who can finish above the rim, has the physical profile, athleticism and shooting ability at 6-foot-7. Built for a good NBA wing player prospect. However, Kobe is way behind in terms of feel for the game and trying to fit into a team structure. Paras is still more into the 3×3 basketball where he is accustomed. He is always looking to score and loves isolation plays. Kobe has the tendency to force off balance jumpers or wild layups instead of passing to an open teammate. Moreover, maybe those weaknesses amplified after UCLA declined his scholarship and Creighton barely used him.
Coach Chot Reyes took the Philippine National team known as Gilas all the way to the FIBA World Cup in 2014 after a 40-year hiatus. However, it didn’t end up well for team Philippines. As Gilas failed to duplicate its success in the Asian games, finishing in just the 7th place. Reyes lost his job, but in a certain twist of fate got his job back after 2 years.
After a successful SEABA campaign against a much lesser competition against our South East Asian neighbors, the Jones cup tournament would served us our barometer on how we will fare up against bigger and stronger oppositions. Coach Chot is trying to develop a very young team with an average age of 24 years old. Kobe Paras maybe the youngest of the bunch but he is certainly the most athletic among the shooting guards and forwards in the team.
However, Reyes knows exposing Kobe’s weaknesses in international stage won’t do any good for the country’s lone chance of getting to the NBA. Coach Chot is telling everyone in the team that there are no entitlements and minutes should be earned. A simple cryptic message that simply says, unless you learn how to play in a team game, you won’t get a spot in the roster. Somehow, with all his athleticism Kobe has to learn to be patient and let the flow of the game get into him naturally. This is not 2013 anymore, when he needs to do something special every time he holds the ball.
Within our perceived weaknesses and imperfections lies the key to realizing our true potential.
The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his mindset. Fortunately, at 19 years old, Kobe Paras found his greatest ally – Time.