ERIC OLSON, AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — In his native country, media call Kobe Paras a “hoops sensation” and “wunderkind,” and his family is known as the “Kardashians of the Philippines.”
At Creighton, Paras is the 13th man on a team that suits up 14.
While fellow freshman Justin Patton has made a name for himself as a potential NBA lottery pick, Paras is the one who’s been asked for a picture not just by a middle-aged woman who followed him into the locker room after a game but by a Cheesecake Factory waitress in Providence, Rhode Island, who recognized him during a team meal. He’s the one who had a cheering section of more than a dozen Filipinos he didn’t even know behind the bench at a tournament in the Virgin Islands.
The 19-year-old Paras boasts a social media following that includes 461,000 on Instagram and 114,000 on Twitter. A YouTube video of him winning a dunking contest drew more than 1.7 million views. Clips of Paras dunking over LeBron James in the Philippines attracted more than 2.5 million. King James wasn’t trying very hard to defend, but still.
Paras has been in the spotlight his whole life. His father, Benjie, was a two-time MVP in the Philippine Basketball Association who’s become a popular television actor in the country. His older brother, Andre, also is in showbiz. Paras was named after Kobe Bryant and wears No. 24.
Given his lineage, there’s pressure on him. He said he uses it as motivation.
“It’s not an everyday thing that a 19-year-old is representing his country,” Paras said. “It’s just a blessing to me that God gave me the ability to represent a country at an early age, and the hope (Filipinos) have is pretty overwhelming.”
Paras, who left the Philippines at age 15 to play high school basketball in Los Angeles, developed into a three-star recruit who originally signed with UCLA. He enrolled in the summer, but an academic issue led to his leaving and he wound up at Creighton. Websites that cover Creighton have seen a wave of traffic from the Philippines this season. At home, media report Creighton results and note when Paras doesn’t play, which is the norm.
“Basketball fans see him as having the best chance to play in the NBA since he is already playing in an NCAA Division 1 school,” Reuben Terrado, a reporter for the sports website Spin.ph, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Female fans adore him because of his good looks.”
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has appeared in 11 of the 24 games this season for the 23rd-ranked Bluejays. He is averaging 5.7 minutes and 1.5 points. Only walk-on Jordan Scurry, his best friend on the team, has played less. The two liven up the end of the bench with their creative celebrations of teammates’ outstanding plays.
“Even though I’m not playing, I’ve been eyeing the game and seeing it,” Paras said. “College and high school are way different. The pace is way faster, more physical. I’m learning a lot.”
Paras has been wrapped in a cocoon by his former high school and club coach, William Middlebrooks, whose organization handles interview requests for Paras. Interviews are conducted with his brand manager on the phone line and occasionally offering comments or expanding on Paras’ responses.
“People have different agendas, and those agendas aren’t always in the best interests of the kids,” said Middlebrooks, whose program includes high school, prep and travel teams.
In Omaha, Paras is able to maintain a relatively low profile. Scurry said he didn’t know about his buddy’s fame in the Philippines until he looked up some of his basketball highlights last July.
Because Paras is likable and humble, teammates don’t give him much grief for being a matinee idol, Scurry said. On campus, Paras is known as much for his fashion as he is for basketball. Scurry called Paras’ style a cross between “L.A. and the Philippines,” while Paras described it as a mix of Kanye West, Russell Westbrook and Chris Brown.
Paras also likes to cook. Beef stew is one of his specialties, and Scurry said Paras makes a mean red sauce to go over pasta. Scurry said Paras told him he might become a chef “if this whole basketball thing doesn’t work out.”
Whether it’s basketball, fashion, cooking or any other endeavor, Paras refers to each as part of his “brand.”
“My name isn’t just Kobe Paras. Everything I do is part of Kobe Paras, Incorporated,” Paras said.
Mind you, there is no Kobe Paras Inc. right now.
“There probably is going to be one when I graduate,” he said.
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