McGee in love with 'adopted country'

- Joaquin M. Henson -

MANILA, Philippines -  Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee has fallen in love with the Philippines and in principle, agreed to play for the national basketball team as a naturalized citizen if ever the opportunity arises, it was recently confirmed by the Cincinnati-based East West Private firm.

McGee, 23, visited Manila twice during the NBA lockout. He came to play two exhibition games last July and returned last month as a PLDT Smart endorser to film a tourism video.

East West Private marketing partner Chao Chuatico-Espaldon told The STAR that during McGee’s visit to Boracay in the course of filming the tourism video, he phoned his mother Pam long distance and raved about the resort paradise. “JaVale promised to buy a home for his mom in Boracay because he loved the place,” said Espaldon. “On his first trip, he didn’t get to see much of the country so he wanted to come back. I phoned coach Chot (Reyes) and we talked about an endorsement deal with PLDT Smart. Coach Chot took it up with Mr. MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan) and we got it done. The idea was to bring JaVale to key destinations in the Philippines and in coordination with the Department of Tourism, we produced a docu showing him visiting Palawan, Bohol, Davao, Boracay and of course, Luneta. It will be a series with episodes answering the question – where in the Philippines is JaVale?”

Espaldon said McGee, a popular figure in social networks, has become a fan favorite not only for his basketball skills but also for his planking and “Flying Buddha” antics. A hot YouTube video shows McGee planking on a conveyor walkway at the Hong Kong airport, his body face down propped up by handrails. His videos will be used to promote “Flying Buddha” basketball camps all over the world.

The big news is McGee’s willingness to play for the Philippines. “Yes, he has agreed in principle to play, when the NBA isn’t in season,” said Espaldon. “Of course, he would’ve liked to play for the US team but since that opportunity isn’t happening, he’s open to the idea of playing for the Philippines. In fact, he would’ve played for Talk ‘N’ Text as an import in the second conference this February if the NBA lockout went on.”

Espaldon said McGee, represented by the sports agency Wasserman Media Group of Los Angeles, is well-behaved and very focused on his basketball career. He recently participated in a two-game exhibitions series on a USO Tour in Hawaii with other NBA stars, including Derrick Rose, Mike Miller, Al Horford and the Lopez twins Brook and Robin. East West Private organized the series with the military troops on base.

Espaldon disclosed that the Philippines was involved in the USO Tour through uniform maker Gameville whose owner Dionisio Ong Balagbagan has been in the business for over 12 years. Balagbagan received an order to produce 50 sets of jerseys and warm-up suits for the USO games within four days and delivered without a hitch.

“A uniform was even sent to President Obama,” said Espaldon. “Gameville also provided the uniforms for the exhibitions in Manila last July and the NBA players loved the quality.”

Balagbagan, 46, said for the Manila games, he produced the uniforms without fitting. “We just estimated the sizes and everything was in order except Chris Paul wanted his shorts to be an inch longer,” said Balagbagan who started his business in a garage in Pasig and now owns a company with 150 employees, including 80 sewers. “For the USO Tour, the biggest jerseys were for the Lopez twins. Their shorts were 28 inches long, like jogging pants for the average person. We’re very excited that the NBA players approve of our quality. They’re the best players in the world and for them to recognize the workmanship of the Filipino, it’s a great honor.” Balagbagan said Gameville caters to the export market and produces uniforms for teams using different brands in the US, Australia and Canada. In the Philippines, Gameville is contracted by leading international sports apparel brands to “localize” products.

McGee’s mother played on the US women’s team that took the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and saw action in the WNBA. McGee is the first son of a WNBA player to be drafted in the NBA. He was the Wizards’ first round pick in the 2008 NBA draft. This past season, McGee averaged 10.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots in 79 games, including 75 starts. Last March, he posted his first career triple double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots against Chicago.

Marcus Douthit is the national team’s naturalized player at the moment. Under FIBA rules, a country may enlist one naturalized player. Since Douthit is 31, recruiting McGee is a step in the right direction to secure the Philippines’ future.









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