A genuine connection with Creighton’s coaches and players, forged over just a couple of weeks, proved to be the primary reason a Filipino phenom joined the Jays this week.
Kobe Paras noticed it right from the start.
The 6-foot-6 wing took an official visit in early July and immediately noticed that there was a sincerity in the way the coaches interacted with him. The way teammates treated one another on and off the court stood out, too.
“That’s why it felt like home,” he said in a phone interview Monday.
And given the circumstances — Paras had withdrawn from UCLA in June after the school announced that he failed to meet admission requirements — the fact that he felt an instant draw to CU’s family atmosphere led the talented prospect to a conclusion he’s now completely comfortable with: He’s a Jay.
Paras announced his commitment to CU on Sunday. The school confirmed Monday that he’d signed a scholarship agreement. He was on campus by the afternoon.
“It was really special to me,” Paras said. “(Because) I didn’t have that much time, and we just clicked right away.”
Which is meaningful to Paras — who’s not exactly your average incoming freshman.
He’s held a celebrity-type status in his home country of the Philippines for essentially his entire life. His dad, Benjie, was a two-time Philippine Basketball Association MVP, since blossoming as an actor. Kobe has more than 100,000 Twitter followers and 400,000 subscribers to his Instagram account.
There’s a 3-year-old video clip of him rising over NBA star LeBron James and throwing down a one-handed slam at a camp. James half-heartedly swiped his right hand in Paras’ direction, not necessarily playing much defense. Didn’t matter, though. That YouTube highlight has 2.5 million views.
Paras is a two-time FIBA under-18 international dunk champion. He’s been on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. He has been the subject of an extensive Bleacher Report feature. Filipino media follow his every move.
“He’s not playing even for just himself,” said his high school coach, William Middlebrooks. “He’s playing for his entire country of people.”
And that is an honor, Paras said. Plenty of motivation to stay focused, too.
Said Paras: “Not every 18-year-old has the opportunity to represent their country in everything they do.”
The lofty expectations won’t disappear, either, now that he’s joined Creighton, which is hoping to build off momentum gained by an NIT run to end the 2015-16 campaign.
The Jays did recently lose a nonbinding pledge for 2017. Hunter Thompson, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound center from Wyoming, reportedly decommitted from Creighton last week.
But this year’s Creighton squad is set to get a boost from Paras and 6-foot-3 freshman point guard Davion Mintz. Redshirt freshmen Justin Patton and Martin Krampelj will also join the mix for playing time.
Paras said he can’t wait.
He’s a three-star prospect according to Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports. Scout ranked him as a four-star recruit. He averaged 15 points per game as a junior at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles before spending the last season competing at the club level with Middlebrooks Academy.
“Kobe is a versatile, scoring wing-forward,” CU coach Greg McDermott said. “He’s extremely athletic and has good natural instincts for the game of basketball.”
Paras can certainly slash and attack the rim. Just check YouTube for clips of him dribbling through traffic and finishing with an agile layup or a rim-rattling jam. But Middlebrooks said Paras has extended his range as a shooter, too. And he’s committed to playing elite defense — an area of his game Paras intends to emphasize during his first year at Creighton.
An adjustment is expected over the next few months, though.
“He’s going to have to deal with the change of speed, the physicality of college basketball, and the length of the season,” Middlebrooks said. “You only figure that out as you go through it.”
Paras knows he’ll have plenty to learn. And it won’t be easy.
But he said he’s matured over the past three years, moving to Los Angeles and living away from his family. He grew through his experiences this summer, too — preparing to start a career at UCLA, then suddenly restarting an accelerated recruiting process.
He set aside the emotions and the frustrations, committing solely to pursuing his dream.
“This isn’t something you can mess up and have it happen again,” Paras said. “It’s, ‘Do you want to be the best or not?’ ”
Paras' school released a video announcing his change of commitment: