TAIPEI - The cheers from a crowd of mostly Filipino migrants rose to a crescendo inside the Taipei Heping Gymnasium as soon as Kobe Paras took off his warm-up clothes midway through the second quarter of Gilas Pilipinas' debut in the 39th Jones Cup against Canada.
It turned out to be a brief appearance.
At 19 the youngest in a national team made up predominantly of PBA players, the prodigious son of former PBA rookie-MVP Benjie Paras spent his debut for the national men's team mostly on the bench cheering his teammates on as Gilas dropped a 77-90 loss.
The 6-foot-6 wingman spent no more than five minutes and 27 seconds on the floor, scoring four points and blocking one shot while playing behind guys like Bobby Ray Parks, Roger Pogoy, and Matthew Wright in the two-guard position.
"I think we did good. It was the free throws (we gave up to Canada) in the end that mattered," said the US Division I player who is set to play for Cal State Northridge next season. "It's a learning experience for us."
Gilas coach Chot Reyes said he was pleased with what he saw from the teen prodigy in his few minutes on the floor, adding he plans to increase his exposure gradually while easing him into the Gilas system.
But at the same time, Reyes said Paras will have to fight for the minutes in his crowded position, just like every member of the team.
"I thought Kobe played very well today. He continues to find his way to get playing minutes in his position but what I liked about his game today was that those limited minutes didn't bother him," said the multi-titled coach.
"He did his work and he contributed. He had four points and two blocks in five minutes, so that's really very impressive. Little by little, we'll give him more playing time and we'll see what happens."
At this point, Reyes said Paras will have to stay patient and find his way in the team as he makes the transition from the 3x3 game where he last represented the Philippines in the World Cup in France.
"This is Kobe's first international tournament (for the men's team) at this level na five-on-five. We have to work him up slowly and we've been telling him to be patient," said Reyes.
The loss notwithstanding, Paras said he's heartened by the support from fans wherever he goes.
"Oh yeah, I heard the crowd," he said. "It's spread all over. You know when I went to high school in LA, every game I played, there was a pack of Filipinos. I'm thankful for the support and I can't wait for the next game."