#FIBAOQT: Clarkson's absence dampens Olympic hopes of Gilas Pilipinas

Jordan Clarkson won't play for the Philippines in the 2016 Manila OQT.(image from Rappler)
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

The hearts of millions of Filipino basketball fans just got collectively broken. This after Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson of the Los Angeles Lakers was ruled out of playing for the Philippines in the upcoming 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Manila.

The bad news was announced by no less than Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Manny V. Pangilinan himself, who shared the unfortunate development during the official press conference for the Manila OQT.

Pangilinan said that, after consulting with some FIBA officials, pursuing Clarkson’s inclusion in Gilas Pilipinas specifically for the Manila OQT was quite complicated. He described how the process involved getting clearances from several corners before the prospect of having Clarkson play for the Philippines can even materialize.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of preparation time. The Lakers, who haven’t been in contention for the NBA postseason for the better part of a month now, will end their season this week. This, combined with the fact that the Philippine national side will probably postpone their training sessions to make way for the playoffs of the 2016 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup, means that even if Clarkson were completely cleared to play for the Philippines and he immediately went to Manila, there might not be enough time to get him acclimated to his teammates and coach Tab Baldwin’s system. (It is also worth noting that coach Tab isn’t in Manila right now. He is in the States for family reasons.)

Unsurprisingly, this bit of news hit Filipino hoop nuts pretty hard, as seeing Clarkson finally don the country’s colors was a big reason they wanted to watch the OQT. Needless to say, Filipino fans weren’t happy.

Aside from getting fans excited, of course, Clarkson’s presence for Gilas would have meant a stronger chance for the Asian side to make waves in the OQT. Bracketed with powerhouse France and dangerous New Zealand, the Philippines already had their work cut out for them in their group, but now that Clarkson won’t be around, the prospect of making it to Rio 2016 just got even bleaker.

Aside from his sheer individual prowess on the hardwood, Clarkson would have given the Philippines a terrific tandem in the backcourt alongside Jayson Castro (1.80m/5ft 11in), who has been named to the FIBA Asia All-Star Five for two editions running. At 1.93m/6ft 4in, Clarkson would have given Gilas good size as a combo guard, and it’s reasonable to assume that stopping him would have been the main priority of opposing defenses. Without him, coach Tab and the rest of Gilas will have to make do with their current pool and naturalized player Andray Blatche (2.11m/6ft 11in).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Blatche was awesome both in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, and, well, aside from the aforementioned Castro, guys like Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo, and reigning PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo aren’t exactly chumps on the basketball court. Given their composition, Gilas Pilipinas can still give their OQT foes a run for their money, and, at least for now, they won’t have to worry about having to gel with Clarkson in such a short span of time.

This also gives the SBP a bit more time to iron out the kinks in Clarkson’s clearance process, and, hopefully, better news will welcome the Filipinos when they being preparing for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup and the qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Unfortunate as this news may seem, for all we know, it may actually be a case of one step back, two steps forward for the Philippines. We must, after all, try to see the silver lining.




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