The next chapter of Kobe Paras’ riveting basketball career will take place in the Land of the Rising Sun, as the high-flying former UP Fighting Maroon has signed with Niigata Albirex BB to be their Asian player in the upcoming Japan B. League season, his new team announced on Sunday, September 5.
Terms of the deal were not publicly disclosed by Niigata, who will participate in Division 1 of Japan’s top basketball league that’s scheduled to recommence at the end of this month.
“Kobe is excited to begin his professional career,” his representation, Siegel Sports and Entertainment, told Rappler in a statement.
“It’s been an uncertain year for him,” the statement further read, “so he’s very excited to get the chance to play basketball again.”
Paras, 23, is the son of former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) MVP and actor Benjie Paras, and has been a popular figure in the Filipino hoops community since his dominant high school playing days with La Salle Green Hills in the early 2010s.
Kobe initially linked up with East-West Private management firm in April before moving to SSE to scout his options in the international scene. (READ: Kobe Paras pursues ‘2nd chance’ in foreign hoops)
There was almost a breakthrough when Paras received interest from Division 1 squad Utsunomiya Brex, but the team ultimately decided to go in a different direction.
Not long after, Niigata expressed their interest to sign Kobe. Following a Zoom meeting with Albirex head coach Fujitaka Hiraoka and team management, both sides came to a mutual agreement.
Kobe becomes the latest Philippine talent to sign with a B.League team, joining the likes of Thirdy Ravena (San-En), Kiefer Ravena (Shiga), Juan Gomez de Liaño (Tokyo Z), Javi Gomez de Liaño (Ibakari), Kemark Cariño (Aomori), and Bobby Ray Parks (Nagoya).
“He’s excited to join Thirdy, who he’s very close with, and some of his other friends from his UP days in Japan, and to continue to hope to build from there. He is so talented that we believe the sky is the limit for Kobe,” SSE said in its statement.
“Kobe certainly does hope that he inspires other Filipino basketball players to dream big and believe they can play anywhere in the world and he hopes to continue to grow the game.”
Sources have told Rappler that more basketball talents in the country are being scouted and recruited by teams in the B.League, as well as teams from other basketball leagues in countries such as Taiwan and South Korea.
Paras, a rim-rattling 6-foot-5 forward, initially and justifiably passed on the Philippine college basketball scene after being offered an athletic scholarship in 2015 by UCLA (US NCAA), which at the time was lauded as a breakthrough for local talent in the country.
Although his residence with UCLA didn’t last the usual four-year route, Paras also had tenures with Creighton University and Cal State Northridge before playing one season with the Fighting Maroons in 2019, where he averaged 16 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 2.5 blocks, and 1 steal a game, becoming one of the UAAP’s most versatile student-athletes.
With Paras leading the way, the University of the Philippines finished with the second-best record in the collegiate tournament and advanced to the Final Four. He initially decided to return for his final year of eligibility with the Fighting Maroons, but opted to test his luck internationally again as the coronavirus pandemic delayed the UAAP’s return.
Paras will now reinforce a Niigata squad which finished with a 16-38 record last B. League season, good for only 17th overall in the standings. His availability will be a major lift for coach Hiraoka, as Albirex Basketball ranked a paltry 15th out of the 20 Division 1 teams in scoring at only 76.5 points per game in 2020-2021.
Niigata also ranked in the bottom half in FG% (45.4%, 13th) and rebounding (32.8, 11th), which are areas that Paras can significantly contribute to.
The B. League schedule has Niigata making their season debut on October 2 against Kyoto. – Rappler.com