MANILA, Philippines – There is a big chance that the Denver Nuggets' 7-footer JaVale McGee will play for the Philippine national basketball team, better known as Smart Gilas Pilipinas.
That is, if McGee will be granted Filipino citizenship by the House of Representatives.
|Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee (34) dunks the ball as Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (L) watches during Game 5 of their first round NBA Western Conference basketball playoff game in Los Angeles, California, May 8, 2012. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters.
In House Bill 6169, or Act Granting Philippine Citizenship to JaVale Lindy McGee, Antipolo Congressman Robbie Puno asked his colleagues in Congress to grant McGee Filipino citizenship so he will be eligible to play for Gilas.
"Pinaka-importante, nanghihinayang tayo na sa huling FIBA Asia ang pumatay sa atin ang mga naturalized players ng ibang bansa," Puno said. "So paano kung may mangyari kay (Marcus) Douthit, sana meron pa tayong isa pang naturalized player in McGee, at bata pa s'ya, he's only 24-years-old."
Smart Gilas head coach Chot Reyes clarified that the national team’s naturalized player is still Marcus Douthit.
"But then we are thinking that Douthit is already 31, turning 32-years-old. We have to make preparations for a younger player in the future," he said.
McGee became known worldwide after competing in the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Competition, becoming the first man to dunk two basketballs on two separate rings at the same time.
He first met Reyes when McGee came to the Philippines last July 2011 to play in a two-game series, the Smart Ultimate All-Star Weekend, with other NBA players including Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose.
But it was McGee who made the biggest impression on the Filipino fans, thanks to his dazzling array of powerful dunks and his on-court antics, which included 'planking' – or lying face down – on the floor of the Araneta Coliseum.
"(JaVale) really fell in love with the country, he liked Manila," Reyes said. "JaVale fit all the characteristics I want in a naturalized player."
"He's a 7-footer, he's tall, athletic, quick. He's not a slow big man... We felt that he was an ideal choice to be a naturalized Filipino and he agreed, he liked the idea," he added.
McGee took to Twitter last January where he announced that he will be willing to play for the Philippines if given a chance.
Reyes said that getting McGee naturalized was just the first step.
"Malayo pa naman 'yan. Right now, our naturalized player is still Marcus Douthit. Until the papers, the bill gets passed and there's still a lot of work to be done on the Denver Nuggets side with JaVale," Reyes said.
"The important thing is he himself wants to do it."
McGee was taken by the Washington Wizards 18th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft; he was traded to the Denver Nuggets this season.
In his four years in the NBA, McGee has averaged 8.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. He made his first playoff appearance this season for the Nuggets, losing in 7 games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
He averaged 8.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks in the 7-game series; in the Nuggets' 102-99 Game 5 victory, McGee scored 21 points to go along with 14 rebounds.
Reyes acknowledged that getting McGee to play for Gilas will come at a steep price.
|Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (R) and Denver Nuggets' JaVale McGee eye a rebound during Game 7 of their NBA Western Conference basketball playoff series in Los Angeles, California May 12, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
"The thing that we did here with the JaVale McGee situation is we thought outside the box," he said. "First, to be able to come up with a name like JaVale McGee, it really required some outrageous thinking."
"Obviously, the compensation, I’m not gonna deny that it's gonna come at a steep price. We just had to do some creative thinking here, and what we came up with the help of Smart, they're putting together a promotional campaign starring JaVale himself," Reyes explained.
"The package we are putting together is a combination of a Smart endorsement and playing for Gilas, and hopefully we'll be able to put together something that will be acceptable to JaVale."
Bringing McGee as the naturalized player for Gilas is not without its risks, however.
Although he has repeatedly shown the potential to be among the better big men in the NBA, he has gotten a reputation for being goofy and erratic.
Basketball bloggers in the NBA have repeatedly criticized McGee over the past season because some of his antics have angered his coaches and put games at risk.
McGee has excellent shot-blocking instincts, but still has a tendency to get caught out of position on defense. He remains a work in progress on offense, relying on his teammates to set him up for alley-oop dunks or easy lay-ups.
If Smart Gilas gets McGee, it will be a major coup as the Nuggets player is a legitimate NBA big man; moreover, he is reportedly being considered to be part of the United States' reserve basketball team.
Reyes insists that the filing of the naturalization bill for McGee is only the first step, and there remains a lot of work to be done.
"The most immediate target is to get all the players that we picked to agree. But right now, we really have to be resigned to the fact that San Miguel is not going to allow their players to be part of the pool," he said.
Gilas had agreed with the Philippine Basketball Association on the creation of a 16-man pool of professional players, which Reyes revealed late last March. But with players from the San Miguel franchises not being allowed to suit up, the team will have to look at other options, Reyes said.
"We are going to figure out, do we replace those players or do we put together the cadet pool of the younger players that are left? We are not yet at that stage," he said.
"The second (priority) is to be able to get them to compete together and practice together," he added.
Reyes added that McGee will most likely be in town by August to train with Gilas in August, but he will not play for Gilas during the Jones Cup.
"Syempre, kailangang magtago din tayo. Ayaw natin ipakita sa kalaban ang gagawin natin," Reyes said.
The newly formed Smart Gilas 2 is targeting the 2016 Olympics, but first they must hurdle their regional foes and prove themselves as the best basketball team in Asia.
"The long term program for Gilas is to make it a continuing program that will allow the Philippines the best representation in the important international competitions," Reyes stressed. "FIBA Asia, Asian Games, all those big international competitions, that's the long-term plan for Gilas."
In the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan, China, the Philippines ended up in fourth place after a heartbreaking 68-70 setback to South Korea in the thrid place game.
Gilas actually had a chance to make it to the finals, but fell to Jordan, 61-75, in the semi-finals.
Douthit led all players in the tournament in scoring (21.9 points per game) and rebounding (12.2 points per game). – Editing by Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBNnews.com