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MANILA, Philippines – The 2023 FIBA World Cup will not only serve as a huge platform for the Dominican Republic basketball program, but also a reunion of sorts for team captain Eloy Vargas.
In his team’s first game against home squad Gilas Pilipinas at the sprawling Philippine Arena, the 6-foot-11 big man will face his former NBA D-League (now G League) teammate Jordan Clarkson, who first earned his dues alongside Vargas with the Los Angeles D-Fenders back in 2014.
Apart from the concept of going against 50,000-plus fans inside a hostile environment in Bulacan, the 34-year-old Vargas is also excited to see what Clarkson can bring to the table nine years after their last team-up.
“Me and Jordan, we played together back in 2014 for the G League, for the Lakers, so we know each other a little bit,” Vargas said in the pre-World Cup press conference at the Araneta Coliseum on Thursday, August 24.
“I know he’s a good shooter, I know he’s very athletic and fast, so our guys [need] to do a great job on him.”
In his brief stint in the D-League – five games to be exact in the 2014-2015 season – Clarkson quickly showed coaches all they need to see with averages of 22.6 points, 7.8 assists, and 5.0 rebounds on 50% shooting.
Vargas, meanwhile, played 30 games that season in his first and so far only NBA-level stint, averaging a steady 8.7 points on a 50% clip, 6.1 boards, and 1.6 blocks.
Together, the duo also played alongside other familiar names like Ryan Kelly and former PBA imports Jamaal Franklin and Manny Harris.
Dominican head coach Nestor Garcia, as expected, also has Clarkson on top of his scouting reports, echoing previously-mentioned strengths like shooting and athleticism.
“Well, he’s an NBA player. In an open field, sometimes he looks unstoppable because he can shoot from long-range. At his level, I think he can play three positions, point guard, shooting guard, small forward,” he said. “He’s really, really dangerous on offense.”
“All Philippine teams have shooters, even the big guys. But like [Clarkson] is really, really fast. We try to assess. In this kind of player, we overcome the situation. My perimeter players are very good in containing the guy with the ball.”
Styles will clash on Friday, August 25, 8 pm, at the Philippine Arena as the Clarkson-led Gilas takes on the Dominicans centered around a formidable NBA-level front court of star Karl-Anthony Towns, ex-LA Clippers prospect Angel Delgado, and Vargas.
An opening ceremony at 6 pm will precede the highly-anticipated main event. Angola and Italy, meanwhile, serve as the opening contest at 4 pm. – Rappler.com