MANILA: The Philippines said they were working hard to have NBA star Jordan Clarkson declared eligible for this year’s World Cup as they celebrated their “against all odds” qualification on Monday.
Former NBA player Andray Blatche led the way as the Gilas beat Kazakhstan 93-75 in Astana on Sunday to grab Asia’s final qualifying spot for the tournament in China.
The Philippines reached their second straight World Cup despite a campaign that included a mass, on-court brawl with Australia that left 10 of their players suspended last year.
Filipino-American Clarkson represented the Philippines at last year’s Asian Games, but the World Cup operates under FIBA rules which could classify him as “naturalised” as he obtained his Filipino passport after the age of 16.
FIBA also restricts each team to one “naturalised” player, meaning the Philippines would have to choose between the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard and Blatche, who acquired Filipino nationality by naturalisation.
However, the Philippine basketball federation (SBP) is trying to convince FIBA to accept Clarkson as a Filipino citizen.
“We have been trying to convince or discuss the matter with FIBA,” SBP president Al Panlilio told AFP. “Everyone is working on the matter and we will do everything we can to make it happen.”
“Based on our constitution, he is Filipino. He has a passport. But he got it after he was 16 years old,” Panlilio added.
Having both Clarkson and Blatche play would be a “deadly combination” for the Philippines, who were eliminated in the preliminary round of the 2014 World Cup, said sports commentator Quinito Henson.
“His combination with Andray Blatche plus the other Filipino players will make the Philippines competitive against the best in the world,” Henson told AFP.
The Gilas’ campaign looked bleak after they had 10 players, including Blatche, suspended for the shocking fight with Australia last July.
But they squeezed through as the best fourth-placed team following the final round of qualifiers over the weekend.
“It’s been a journey and it’s been quite difficult because you know we had a major issue with the Australian incident, the brawl,” Panlilio said.
“The stars really had to align for us… We are very happy and proud to be back in the World Cup.”