By Jerome Lagunzad
There is one familiar figure who’s really excited to welcome back touted Kobe Paras, who plans to stay in the country for good and continue his promising basketball career.
“Excited ka ba talaga?” asked a smiling Paras, 20, glancing over to the far-end of the presidential table where former high school teammate Ricci Rivero was seated during his homecoming presser Monday at The Bar One inside the Crowne Plaza-Manila.
The 6-foot-1 Rivero sure is filled with excitement as he gets the chance to team up with the 6-foot-6 Paras, this time with the Gilas Pilipinas cadets team set to see action in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup that gets going on Saturday.
“That’s my dream to play for the national team and I’m excited that I’m going to play with Kobe again. And who doesn’t want to have Kobe back?” said Rivero, who played alongside Paras during La Salle-Greenhills’ bridesmaid finish in the NCAA juniors basketball tournament in 2013.
The much-awaited reunion of Rivero and Paras, who have been included in the “#23for23” wishlist by Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes, should be provide both a fresh start on their respective careers.
After he left Rivero and the Greenies to seek bigger challenges in the United States, Paras transferred from one school after another and hardly made an impact in his collegiate career before he ultimately decided to turn pro last month.
“It’s an eye opener for me,” said Paras of his American expedition that started with the Los Angeles, California-based Cathedral High School in 2014. “It’s a great experience to be in the US.
“When I was there in (United) States, I was trained well and somehow got myself better. It made me mature a lot as a player. But I think last year was my boiling point and I was really feeling the pressure. So I have to make a decision for myself.”
Quite similar was the road taken by Rivero, who appeared to be the next “King Archer” following his impressive showing on his sophomore season last year, only to violate a new team policy that forced him to take a leave of absence from La Salle.
The stunning fallout prompted Rivero to bid the Green Archers goodbye, leaving them without another big piece on their championship puzzle following the earlier exit of reigning two-time league MVP Ben Mbala and champion coach Aldin Ayo.
“Somehow may similarities rin ‘yung pinagdaanan namin. Parehas kaming umalis sa schools and same na lang muna kami na magpo-focus sa Gilas for the moment, at least for the duration this summer,” said Rivero.
Bounty Agro Ventures, Inc. president Ronald Mascariñas disclosed that they have bigger plans in place for Paras “to reach his full potential” since he could become the cornerstone of the national team in the near future.
“Whatever Kobe’s plans are, we, at Chooks to Go, will be behind him,” said Mascariñas. “Very clear naman ang vision ng company in supporting national athletes. And Kobe is not just an athlete. He’s a national treasure and we want to help Kobe grow and reach his full potential.”