Justin Brownlee could only shake his head as he heard the names of the prolific players who have served as naturalized players for Gilas Pilipinas.
Jordan Clarkson. Marcus Douthit. Andray Blatche. Even college star Ange Kouame comes with his own special CV.
“Man. I sure have big shoes to fill,” Brownlee said with a nervous chuckle during a chat with the Inquirer late Friday night.
Clarkson, the Utah Jazz star in the National Basketball Association, is arguably the top scorer the national basketball program has ever had. Douthit, meanwhile, spearheaded the dramatic victory over South Korea in the Fiba Asian Cup which propelled the Philippines into the World Cup. And in this 2014 edition of the world basketball showcase, Blatche helped Gilas Pilipinas to a decisive victory.
“I know the history, especially with Blatche and the national team since 2014, so I definitely have big shoes to fill,” he added.
Kouame may be the least accomplished of this group, but his work with Ateneo and the national team’s brilliant run in a Fiba qualifying tournament held here is nothing to scoff at.
Brownlee, the beloved Barangay Ginebra import is set to become Gilas Pilipinas’ newest recruit following his candidacy for Philippine citizenship, which officially kicked off in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
And as such, he’s ready to weave his own story into the nation’s basketball lore, unconcerned about how to stand out from those who came before him.
“I have a lot of respect for these guys, especially when it comes to basketball, but I really want to be the best I can be,” he said.
“I feel like everyone is special in their own way, but I guess by just being me and playing my style of basketball and helping to implement within the team and with what they’ve already done this far with the way they play is How do I [truly] fit in.
A five-time PBA champion and two-time winner of the league’s top import plum, Brownlee’s tireless play has endeared him not only to PBA fans, but also to players and fans of opposing ball clubs.
“He never missed training and he gives it his all every time,” national coach Chot Reyes told the Inquirer recently. “And the good thing about JB is that he’s ready to be the back-up. He told me he’ll be ready if JC (Jordan Clarkson) becomes unavailable, that’s important.
And the all-around striker insists that with his hour coming his focus has nothing to do with being as outstanding as his predecessors.
“I wouldn’t say I would be more as special as the former naturalized players, but I think by just being me, I think I can bring something different,” he said.
Brownlee’s naturalization bill will have to pass two more House-level readings before moving to the Senate. There it will go through the same legislative process and then be sent to the president’s office to be signed into law.
Only then can Brownlee begin his role as a naturalized player and support the national team – something basketball officials hope can happen by February, when Gilas hosts Lebanon and vengeful Jordan in the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
“I hope it will work out,” he said.
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