The Philippines already has a naturalized player in Jordan Clarkson for the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup, and even if there was a better player available, it may be too late in the day to have another player go through the same process.
But the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) can still strengthen the national team by fielding Clarkson and Justin Brownlee for the global showcase starting in August.
It’s just going to take a lot for that to happen—and that is if Ricky Vargas can even get his idea off the ground.
“We can apply for Justin to be recognized by the Fiba as a local,” the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) chair told a small group of Filipino sportswriters here in Paris on Friday before the start of the pro league’s annual planning session. “If there’s a way we can do it, then why not give it a try.”
Vargas said that with Brownlee having had “his pro career in the country,” the SBP can apply for recognition from the Fiba for the Barangay Ginebra import in the PBA to play as a local.
“I don’t know if there’s already a precedent to that, but we can try,” he said. “Justin is as Filipino as you and I. He’s been with us since 2016, and I understand his sons even stay with him in the country.”
Vargas said that Brownlee having started his PBA career in 2016 gives the SBP a strong case to pursue with Fiba, “unlike our other naturalized players who really don’t reside (in the Philippines) and come only for tournaments.
“Justin’s case is very different,” Vargas went on. “I can see that he is a Filipino at heart. You all saw his emotions in Cambodia (in the Southeast Asian Games). He doesn’t play like a mercenary as far as I saw it.
“His emotions (after helping the country reclaim the basketball gold) was just on another level.”
The Philippines will be cohosting the World Cup from August 25 together with Japan and Indonesia, with the KO stages all to be played in Manila.
Gilas will be shooting to win at least two games in group play to be able to advance and assure itself, more or less, of being the best Asian finisher which would mean an automatic slot to the main draw of the Olympics here in 2024.
“We have a better chance of doing that (winning two games) if they can both play,” Vargas said. “That will be a beautiful scenario for us, and it will end all discussions as to who our naturalized player should be.”
Team Philippines is bracketed in Group A together with world force Italy, the Dominican Republic and Angola.
For the Filipinos to play in the KO stages, they would need at least two wins—which they can reasonably shoot for against the Dominican Republic and the African champions.
“We need to improve on our best-ever (World Cup) performance (in 2014) to be able to make the Olympics without complications,” Vargas said. “And that would mean winning two games.”
The Philippines defeated Senegal in overtime, 81-79, in Seville, Spain in 2014, a victory that came after close shaves against Croatia, Puerto Rico and Argentina.
“We showed that it can be done,” Vargas said. “And if we can get the both of them (Clarkson and Brownlee) together, we have a bigger chance.”
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