Thursday, August 27, 2015
Jordan Clarkson brings hope to embattled Gilas Pilipinas (VIDEO)
After weeks of agonizing wait for some of the key players that included the reigning back-to-back MVP of the PBA to show up in the national team's practices, despair turned into hope when a rising star from the world's best league came up to make a stand.
Here is an NBA player, who is just coming off a stellar first season in the league where he was named to the All-Rookie First Team, showing his desire to play for the national team. For a basketball-crazy nation that is starving of a star in the NBA who can they call their own, Jordan Clarkson of the Los Angeles Lakers could fit that bill.
Clarkson, whose mother Annette is a full-blooded Filipina, is in the country to sign an endorsement deal with Smart, the main sponsor of the national team. But more importantly, the NBA sophomore guard brought with him the necessary documents that could make him eligible to suit up for Gilas as a regular member, and not a naturalized player, in the coming FIBA Asia Men's Championship in China and future international tournaments. (READ: Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson a Philippine Passport holder: SBP confirmed)
Whether he is eligible to represent his mother's home country is a question that only FIBA could answer once they have evaluated his documents. And whether the NBA and the Lakers' organization would allow him to play for the Philippines in the coming FIBA Asia Men's Championship that runs smack to the league's mandatory media day and start of the training camp is another question that would be begging for an answer later. (READ: LA Lakers ‘aware’ of Jordan Clarkson's interest of playing for Gilas Pilipinas)
But still, the majority of basketball-crazy Filipinos who felt betrayed by the withdrawal of some its local stars, sensed a big hope that come the 12 days bridging September to October, they will witness a magical run in the land that broke their hearts.
Gilas has a shot at redemption in the Olympic qualifier that could wipe out the tears brought by China outbidding the country for the hosting rights of the 2019 World Cup.
But injuries and pullouts have battered the lean national pool.
On Wednesday night, there was an air of excitement and hope that enveloped the Meralco Gym the moment Clarkson walked in.
After reconnecting with his roots in Clark, Angeles in Pampanga, Clarkson went straight to observe the second of Gilas' four back-to-back practice sessions before they fly to Taiwan on Friday to compete in the annual William Jones Cup.
While he was barred from talking to the media pending the official press conference that is scheduled on Friday, his mere presence and his willingness to participate in some of the drills said it all. Wearing a practice jersey that has the words "Pilipinas" on his chest was all the fans were waiting see to validate his desire to represent them. (READ: Jordan Clarkson wears Gilas Pilipinas jersey; joins national team practice)
The crowd inside the Meralco gym were all up on their feet making Clarkson feel right at home.
“It was great to see him (Clarkson). You know, I’m like every Gilas fan when I see a player of his caliber walk in the gym. It’s exciting,” Gilas coach Tab Baldwin told reporters after Clarkson's first practice with the team.
But as the man tasked to guide the national team back into the Olympics, the American-Kiwi coach put Clarkson's presence in its right perspective and try to manage everyone's expectations.
“But I think the most important thing is not to get carried away right now whether Jordan’s going to play or not,” said Baldwin pending the clearance from FIBA, the NBA and the Lakers' organization.
“The thing we should all be excited about is he’s here because he wants to be here."
Clarkson participated in the warm-up exercises up to the two-on-two full-court drills. In one sequence, he caught up a pass from Moala Tautuaa and took a step-back three-pointer from afar.
The ball went in. The crowd applauded with a sheepish grin.
The spotlight was on Clarkson. But he was careful though not to steal the thunder away from the national team and disrupt whatever chemistry they have built in the past three weeks. After a few runs, Clarkson drifted to the other side of the court and did light shooting drills then finally took a backseat and returned the spotlight to the rest of the national pool.
The intensity and energy picked up in the five-on-five scrimmage with Clarkson watching from the sidelines while taking some notes on the Gilas system from assistant coach Alex Compton.
Clarkson's presence clearly inspired the team that is still missing the services of back-to-back MVP June Mar Fajardo and LA Tenorio due to health reasons.
The other key player who missed the first three weeks including the pocket tournament in Estonia was Marc Pingris but he finally re-joined the national pool on the same day Clarkson came in. (READ: Marc Pingris rejoins Gilas Pilipinas team)
The Lakers' second year player is guaranteed up to only this coming season and yet he is willing to risk his next contract that should be a lucrative one just for a shot at the Olympics, a rare place that only superstar Kobe Bryant, among current Lakers players, was able to reach.
“There’s nobody with a gun to Jordan’s head. He wants to play for the Philippines. That’s about as exciting an announcement as there could be," Baldwin said.
“I guess the only announcement that could be better is that he can play for the Philippines,” he added. “But we still have to wait for that.”
Another agonizing wait has just begun.
But Clarksons' arrival reminds the national team and its legions of fans that hope springs eternal.