Focus is FIBA World Cup

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2021 - 12:00am

The recent invitation for the Philippines to participate in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade on June 29-July 4 has precipitated a frenzy of planning sessions to prepare for what appears to be a long shot, considering only the winner of a six-team group that includes Serbia and Italy, will make it to Tokyo. In FIBA’s world rankings, Serbia is No. 5 and Italy, No. 10. The other countries in the Serbia conclave are No. 18 Puerto Rico, No. 19 Dominican Republic, No. 31 Philippines and No. 35 Senegal.

But it’s a welcome development with the bigger picture in mind. SBP’s ultimate goal is to form a competitive national team for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, particularly as the Philippines will host two rounds of eliminations and the entire playoffs capped by the final. Qualifying for the Olympics will be an incredible bonus, considering the OQT is only a few months away and the pandemic has seriously hampered the Gilas pool’s consistent training.

SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan conjured visions of a tall lineup during a recent conversation, pointing to Kai Sotto, A. J. Edu, Ange Kouame and Carl Tamayo as prospects for 2023. SBP’s program of developing the next generation of Gilas players has been noticed by FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis who said it’s a step in the right direction. In the FIBA Asia Cup second qualifying window in Bahrain last November, Gilas was represented by non-PBA players who acquitted themselves impressively with back-to-back wins over a more experienced Thai squad.

MVP said enlisting NBA standout Jordan Clarkson to play for Gilas in the next World Cup is a “top priority.” Clarkson, a shoo-in for the NBA Sixth Man Award this season, is averaging a career-high 18.2 points for the Utah Jazz without a single start. He’s shooting 96.6 percent from the line, 55.7 percent from two-point distance and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. Clarkson will be 31 when Manila hosts the World Cup. He played for the Philippines at the 2018 Asian Games. Whether FIBA will recognize Clarkson as a local or naturalized import is a huge factor in Gilas’ composition for the World Cup. Under Philippine law, Clarkson is a dual citizen with Filipino heritage and enjoys the privileges of a Filipino. If Clarkson is listed as a local, Gilas will be allowed one naturalized import, opening the door for Kouame to suit up.

The late FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann once mentioned the possibility of reverting to the previous rule of permitting a national team to recruit two naturalized imports in an effort to balance world-wide competition. The Philippines won its last FIBA Asia Cup (then known as Asian Basketball Confederation) in 1986 with two naturalized imports Jeff Moore and Dennis Still then FIBA changed the rule to just one. But MVP said two naturalized imports wouldn’t be necessary if only FIBA recognizes Fil-foreigners as locals as they should be under Philippine law. Can you imagine a Gilas 25-man pool with Kouame as naturalized import and Clarkson, Stanley Pringle, Christian Standhardinger, Matthew Wright, Sotto, Edu, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, RR Pogoy, CJ Perez, Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena, Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano, Matt and Mike Nieto, Isaac Go, Justine Baltazar, Troy Rosario, Tamayo, Dwight Ramos, Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter and Robert Bolick?

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