Coaches sit up and take notice as Andre Paras a different animal in basketball comeback
While most of the attention is on brother Kobe, Andre Paras has made quite a splash in his return to basketball after a two-year layoff. Dante Peralta

WHEN Daniel Salonga's awkward floater hit nothing but the backboard, Andre Paras came out of nowhere and snatched the offensive rebound from Cignal big man Andres Cahilig before cleaning up the rough possession with an emphatic putback slam.

Plays like that had coaches and scouts sitting up and taking notice as Paras made an impressive return to basketball by way of the PBA D-League after a two-year layoff that saw the eldest son of former the PBA's only rookie-MVP Benjie dabble in movies and television.

While all eyes are on his younger brother and basketball prodigy Kobe, Andre started to turn heads outside showbiz when he averaged a whopping 18 rebounds on top of four blocks and 7.3 points through three games for AMA Online Education.

Paras, 21, even came seven rebounds shy of matching Jay-R Taganas' record for most rebounds in a game with a pair of 22-rebound efforts - not bad for someone who over the past two years has become known for movies such as Diary ng Panget and Girlfriend for Hire more than his basketball.

But is Paras for real? Is he PBA-ready? SPIN.ph asked veteran coaches to weigh in and most of the answers we got were positive.

Eric Gonzales, the man behind Batangas' rise in the ongoing season-ending conference, said there's no doubt Paras will make the pros soon with the weapons he possesses now.

"Magaling si Andre. Hindi malayo (na makapasok siya sa PBA)," said Gonzales, who won two D-League titles with Phoenix last season. "Athletic, matalino, at magaling yung bata."

Paras' defensive prowess didn't come as a surprise for Cignal coach Boyet Fernandez, who was San Beda's head coach when the agile slotman played for the Red Lions' Team B two years ago.

"Si Andre kasi ganun ang asset nun, more on rebounds and defense but then he can shoot the three and yung energy nya andun lagi," said Fernandez, who also noticed a marked improvement in the young slotman's physique.

"Ganda nga ng katawan ngayon medyo naging solid," he said.

Marinerong Pilipino coach Koy Banal echoed their sentiments, adding he feels Andre has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

"Tingin ko medyo pigil lang sya e. Meron s'yang laro pero siguro hindi pa s'ya at ease sa sistema. Pero nakita mo na may potential yung bata," said the former Barako Bull coach in the PBA.

"Numbers don't lie," he added. "Yun ang tinitignan ng mga scouts at coaches as well as his performances, how he fares with the big men here. Hindi naman sya makakakuha ng ganun rebounds kung wala syang potential."

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If he's still coaching in the PBA, Banal said he wouldn't hesitate to pick Paras when the latter declares for the Rookie Draft.

"Of course (kukunin ko yan). Bata? Yes! Kaunting seasoning lang yan," he said.

But as good as he is now, coaches agree Paras is still a work in progress and will need to improve his offensive skills to go high in the draft.

Paras averaged just six points in his first five games since his return.

"Kung dream nya mag PBA, he's still young, he can still play in college muna or D-League para di conflict sa sched," Fernandez said.

"He has to improve every time. Medyo nakikita natin na maganda (nilalaro niya). Ma-develop niya lang maturity niya sa game, kakayanin nya kasi he's 6-5. Sa PBA malaki yun, he just has to improve. Plus Paras apelyido nun."

Banal said: "Kumpyansa siguro at wag sya mahiya. Tingin ko lalabas yun sa coach kung papano nya matutulungan at mapapalabas galing ng player.

"Siguro nahihiya sya sa mga kasama nya or di napapasahan, or di nagde-demand. Or kulang pa kaya siguro wala pang kumpyansa kasi di nya pa naeensayo (yung opensa)."

The coaches, though, agree that Paras will become an ever better player once he gives his undecided attention to the sport.

"We cannot serve two masters at the same time," said Gonzales. "Balance lang dapat. OK lang naman mag-artista sya kasi nage-enjoy sya. Siguro maging consistent na lang sa practice."

Follow the writer on Twitter: @janbballesteros