Jordan Clarkson to join Gilas in Olympic Qualifiers if schedule permits

NATURAL BORN. Jordan Clarkson could be wearing the national team's colors soon. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

NATURAL BORN. Jordan Clarkson could be wearing the national team's colors soon.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson says he will join the Philippine men’s national basketball team in its hunt for an Olympics spot during the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in 2016, granted his schedule permits it.

Talking to Rappler inside his team’s locker room at the Staples Center in Los Angeles after their loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday, December 17, the second-year Lakers guard said, “If my schedule’s free,” then he will join Gilas Pilipinas as they vie for one of the 3 tickets to Rio 2016 against 17 other hopefuls.

The Philippines is actually one of the 10 countries that bid for hosting rights. Being one of the final 4 teams during the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, they automatically receive a spot in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they will go up against other powerhouses like Iran (a familiar rival), France, Greece, Senegal, Canada, and more.

The 18 teams will be divided into 3 OQTs of 6 countries each, with the winner of each tourney going to Rio. The tournaments will take place from July 5-16 in 2016. 

Assuming Clarkson doesn’t join the Lakers’ Summer League team a third straight year, or has other NBA or Lakers-related obligations, he should be free to join Gilas.

The national team has recently started practices for the OQTs, with the PBA pledging full support to the program. 

“I think that’s the plan,” Clarkson said about participating in Gilas’ 2016 tournaments, but also added: “We got to figure out what everything is with FIBA, so we’ll see.”

Back in August, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas director Sonny Barrios told Rappler Clarkson can play for Gilas as a “natural born” Filipino player.

Barrios said the 23-year-old acquired a Filipino passport “in 2004, if I’m not mistaken.” The director also said that Clarkson was in the process of getting approval from FIBA to play in the FIBA Asia tournament by submitting other supporting legal documents, such as Clarkson’s birth certificate.

Clarkson ultimately couldn’t play in the FIBA Asia tilt due to media day and training camp obligations to the Lakers, but did commit to the Gilas program through 2024.

If Clarkson joins Gilas next year, he will potentially playing alongside other talented local guards Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo, both of whom displayed their supreme abilities for the national team in recent tournaments.

Clarkson was actually with the national team in Taiwan recently as a spectator, watching Gilas in the 2015 William Jones Cup, where Romeo’s play made news both back in the Philippines and in the tournament as Gilas finished in second place.

“I think Terrence is really good. He has a lot of potential,” Clarkson told Rappler about the PBA star and former UAAP MVP. 

“I think there are some solid guys out there,” he said about the rest of the team, “so it was cool to watch.”

Another player who Clarkson could play with for Gilas is naturalized Filipino and big man Andray Blatche, who’s played for the national team in both the 2014 FIBA World Cup and the recent FIBA Asia Championship, where Gilas finished second to China.

Blatche, a former NBA player himself, has already shown how lethal he can be for Gilas even when he’s not in his best game-shape. Together with Clarkson, they could make a formidable one-two punch.

“It’ll be cool. Very dynamic team,” Clarkson said about potentially teaming up with Blatche, who recently affirmed his commitment to Gilas in 2016.

“Yes (Blatche gave his assurance) before he left (for the U.S.). He said if it (Gilas joins the Olympic qualifying tournament) happens, we just let him know. He’s dedicated to us,” SBP deputy director for international affairs Butch Antonio told Philstar.com in October.

Blatche, a 6-foot-10 center, averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a game in the FIBA Asia championship.

“Dray been in the league (NBA), hopefully it’ll (teaming up with him for Gilas) bring something different,” Clarkson said.

Has Clarkson, who’s averaging 14.9 points and 3.6 rebounds a game this NBA season, per ESPN, talked to Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin lately? “No,” he admitted, but he quickly said, “Yes,” when asked if he will get in touch with the American-Kiwi Gilas coach soon.

“I don’t know,” Clarkson said, when asked what they will talk about, “I guess we’re just going to have to see.” – Rappler.com