MANILA, Philippines – Kobe Paras's experience as a Division 1 athlete in the US NCAA was rocky, and one that did not end up quite the way he wanted.
From making a high-profile commitment to University of California, Los Angeles, Paras ended up playing just one season of Division 1 basketball – in Creighton University – before transferring to California State University, Northridge. He did not play a single second for the Matadors, however, as he left the school and declared that he would turn professional when the coach who recruited him, Reggie Theus, was fired.
Yet for all the ups and downs that Paras endured, his NCAA experience is one that he would not trade away for anything.
"It was an eye-opening experience," Paras said on Monday upon his homecoming. "It was one of the greatest decisions I made in my life – to leave the Philippines and go to the United States."
It was also a difficult time. Paras was only 15 when he left, and he was away from his family and friends for the next five years. His family visited from time to time, but for the most part, Paras was by his lonesome.
"It helped me a lot," said the now-20-year-old young man. "I matured at a young age."
Despite how everything turned out for him, Paras has no regrets about his experience in the US NCAA. Indeed, he is hopeful that there will be more Filipino players who can follow in his footsteps and embark on their own journey in Division 1.
One youngster who could take his talents to the United States is 7-foot-1 teenager Kai Sotto, who turned heads with his remarkable performance in the FIBA Under-16 Asian Championships in China recently.
The 15-year-old Sotto said he is so far unaware of offers from the US, and is instead focused on Batang Gilas' upcoming stint in the FIBA Under-17 World Cup in Argentina. It would be no surprise if he draws some attention from NCAA scouts there.
Paras believes that if Sotto is given an offer to play abroad, he should not hesitate.
"Just go for it," said Paras. "If ever he has an opportunity, I'd like him to go for it."
Paras stirred controversy with his tweets about Sotto before, including one where he advised the teenager to "make a mature decision to continue his basketball career here in the States, so he won't get rotten and brain-washed in Manila." He has since deleted that tweet.
Paras wants it known that he was not "talking bad" about Sotto, and is in fact very impressed with what the towering teenager has achieved at such a young age.
"I saw what he did in the last tournament for the FIBA Asia, so that was great. At least people know who Kai Sotto is, and with that being said, he has a platform now," said Paras.
"All that matters is, it's all up to him now," he added.
Paras also wants Sotto to know that if ever the youngster is in need of any help, then he and his father Benjie are always available.
"I don't want to be the only Filipino making it where else," said Paras. "I want to be an ice-breaker."
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