MANILA - One of the most highly-anticipated debuts in the UAAP finally came to fruition on Sunday, when Kobe Paras suited up for University of the Philippines for the first time in Season 82, as the Fighting Maroons played Adamson University.
Paras, the former La Salle Greenhills standout, left his mark all over the game. He had a team-high 20 points, making 6 of his 18 shots, along with 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, an assist, and a steal. He converted a clutch bucket in overtime to help the Fighting Maroons claim an 83-82 come-from-behind victory.
Afterward, all Paras could express was gratitude.
"I'm happy," he said. "I'm really happy."
Much has been written of Paras' basketball odyssey -- a journey that took him from Los Angeles to UCLA, to Creighton, and very briefly, to Cal State Northridge. Paras returned to the Philippines in 2018, without having played a single game for Cal State Northridge, and eventually announced that he would be playing for UP.
After a one-year residency, he had to wait two more games before making his debut after sustaining an ankle sprain. UP went 1-1 without him, taking down Far Eastern University in their first game but absorbing a shock loss to University of Santo Tomas in their second.
In his debut, Paras immediately showed that he was worth the wait for UP. He barreled his way to the rim repeatedly, with Adamson resorting to fouling him to stop his drives. Paras would take 11 free throws in the game, making 8 of them.
"As everyone knows here, this is my fourth college," said Paras. "I'm just thankful to Coach Bo (Perasol) and the whole UP community for giving me, basically, a third chance in not just basketball but in life."
Paras won't deny that his journey has been a difficult one. He has been honest about his struggles -- both physical and mental -- that have taken a toll on him as a player and a person.
"I had to go through a lot of mental issues," he said. "I think that’s one thing that people really need to understand. As athletes, we're human beings as well."
"You know, I had to face adversity every single day alone but you know, I’m just grateful, like what I said earlier, for the opportunity that UP’s given to me," he added. "Of course, those high-caliber schools were also in the mix but I just wanted to start fresh in a school that really has nothing."
These struggles, said Paras, are why he can deal with the pressure that comes with playing for a team that has championship expectations in Season 82.
"I use pressure as motivation because there are a lot of people out there who would die to be given my opportunity," he pointed out.
"I don't see pressure as pressure," he added. "I'm just really blessed I'm given a third chance in college basketball, and that's rare."
"For a lot of these student-athletes, they know how it feels. Some of them know how it feels to try and try and try and not get the chance. I'm just blessed. Even though this is just my plan B, this plan B is everyone's dream. So I'm still grateful for everything."
There are of course some issues to work out. UP struggled mightily in the second quarter against Adamson, scoring a paltry 7 points despite having a bevy of scorers -- Paras included -- in their line-up. Perasol mixed and matched his players all game long, trying to find a combination that clicked on both ends of the floor.
In the end, they had enough to rally past an Adamson team that was determined to earn a measure of revenge for last year's Final 4 heartbreak.
"This win helps us to build our chemistry," said Paras. "You guys know this is a new team, but a lot of people out there think it's easy to have a group of players come in and produce, but it's hard."
"I'm just glad we have games like this because it brings us together, and also I'm thankful for everyone who's here right now," he added.
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