Naturalization coming soon?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

The race is on to process Justin Brownlee’s naturalization in time for the Barangay Ginebra import to play for Gilas in the fifth FIBA World Cup Asia qualifying window against Jordan on Nov. 10 and Saudi Arabia on Nov. 13. The path towards naturalization varies from country to country, depending on eligibility policies. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to naturalize JR Holden in 2003 and four years later, the 6-1 guard from Pittsburgh led the national team to the FIBA EuroBasket title. Another American Becky Hammon was naturalized by the Russian government and played for the national team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, 2009 FIBA EuroBasket and 2020 FIBA World Cup. In Japan, a pool of naturalized players is available for call-ups to the national team and the list includes Luke Evans, Nick Fazekas, Ryan Rossiter, Gavin Edwards, Ira Brown, Michael Parker, Edward Morris and Thomas Kennedy.

In the Philippines, naturalization goes through the Senate and House. Brownlee, 34, has repeatedly said he would be honored to play for the Philippines. In 2018, Rep. Mikee Romero authored a bill to naturalize the former St. John’s University standout. But the pandemic got in the way and the bill never made it into law. Brownlee is now back in town and available to face legislators in pursuing his naturalization. Last Monday, he attended the first reconstituted Gilas practice at the Meralco gym with coach Chot Reyes presiding.

Sen. Francis Tolentino, chairman on Justice and Human Rights and Blue Ribbon Committees, said Brownlee’s papers are now being processed. Sen. Bato de la Rosa filed the bill for Brownlee’s naturalization. Once it’s approved by the Senate on third reading, the House will deliberate on the measure. Less than seven weeks are left to complete the process. As soon as Brownlee is naturalized, SBP will forward his documents to FIBA for clearance to play on the national team.

SBP’s fall-back for the fifth window is Ateneo’s naturalized player Ange Kouame who has bulked up and grown to be a legitimate seven-footer. The UAAP has adjusted its schedule to allow Kouame the opportunity to play for Gilas in case he’s drafted. However, Brownlee is the first choice with Jordan Clarkson unavailable. Gilas is expected to enlist June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Poy Erram and possibly Kai Sotto (if the Australian league permits) so it may not be necessary to recruit a center. Brownlee is 6-4 5/8 and able to play multiple positions so his versatility will definitely be an asset.

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said Reyes has not decided from which PBA teams to select players for the fifth window although the consensus is they are San Miguel Beer, TNT and Barangay Ginebra. The Commissioner’s Cup schedule has no games for the three teams from Nov. 7-15. If the Japanese B.League allows the Gilas players to suit up in the fifth window, the pool will include Bobby Ray Parks, the Ravena brothers and Dwight Ramos. A possible Gilas lineup could be made up of Fajardo, Aguilar, Sotto, CJ Perez, RR Pogoy, Erram, Scottie Thompson, Parks, Ramos, the Ravena brothers and Brownlee. Reserves could be Calvin Oftana, Francis Lopez, UP’s Carl Tamayo and La Salle’s Kevin Quiambao.


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