It’s already August and yet attendance remains an issue for Gilas Pilipinas.
Kai Sotto’s back has been a hot topic, but back issues can be tricky and as outsiders, we don’t really know how Sotto feels at this moment. He has been attending practices as a spectator or by doing some light work, but apparently, that’s not enough. Chot Reyes, the head coach for the Philippine national team, didn’t do any favors when describing the Sotto situation.
Meanwhile, there seems to be some headway with regard to the situation with Jordan Clarkson, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that things are any clearer.
Negotiations between the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and Clarkson’s group went deep into July, with the Filipino-American set to join Gilas in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament in China, where they were set to play against Iran and Senegal. Until he wasn’t.
Reyes mentioned before departing for China that Clarkson will now join Gilas Pilipinas after the pocket tournament, giving him more or less two weeks to fully assimilate himself into the Philippine national team while also ramping up to game shape. Gilas reportedly has a few more tuneup games after the competition in China and whether or not that will be enough is now the looming question.
Clarkson’s skill is undeniable, and the two games against Lebanon and Saudi Arabia were proof of that. But talent can only take you so far. Gilas Pilipinas’ World Cup opponents have had more time to scout them and may have already developed some schemes to limit the effectiveness of the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
This is by no means a call to have Justin Brownlee be named the Philippines’ naturalized player as he is dealing with ankle bone spurs and slated to join Gilas for the postponed 2022 Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China. If anything, Gilas is really a bunch of revolving parts and that has made it tough to make any definitive conclusions at least for us on the outside. For a player like Clarkson, it could take some time to feel things out, even if he’s an NBA player, a point Reyes had to emphasize. The games in the tournament that is also being dubbed as the China International Hoops Festival would have provided some quality games for Clarkson to see where he is at the moment.
The Philippines is not the USA, who can easily gather players a few weeks before the 2023 FIBA World Cup and advance to the knockout rounds. The likes of Canada and Slovenia have already opened their training camps and yet Clarkson has not yet even set foot in Manila. Players like Jamal Murray and Luka Doncic, who objectively have more leverage on the basketball federations of Canada and Slovenia, respectively, have already joined their respective national teams, but of course, their federations seem to be much more organized than the SBP.
On one hand you also get why Reyes has made it well-known that Gilas Pilipinas lacks the preparation other teams have had, but you also hope that they put their foot down instead of being beholden to the whims of certain players regardless if they play in the NBA or not. More than anything, it’s about following through on your commitments, since it not only entails some individual sacrifices, but it was also viewed as one of the crucial criteria for a slot in the national team.
When Jordan Clarkson will link up with Gilas Pilipinas is pretty much anyone’s guess, but the more time he spends apart from the squad, the fewer chances he can get to fully acclimatize himself to his teammates and the system being implemented by head coach Chot Reyes. We can all talk about how Clarkson can easily plug himself into the lineup, but being in the trenches with his peers and getting some game reps are things he and Gilas can’t take for granted. After all, this is the tournament the Philippines has been preparing for and hyping up even before the COVID-19 pandemic.