FIBA: Jamie Malonzo one step closer to fulfilling Gilas dream

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 29 2022 07:07 PM

NorthPort's Jamie Malonzo in action against the TNT Tropang GIGA. PBA Images
NorthPort's Jamie Malonzo in action against the TNT Tropang GIGA. PBA Images

MANILA, Philippines -- In a boost to the country's national team program, NorthPort forward Jamie Malonzo will be eligible to play for Gilas Pilipinas as a local. 

Malonzo, 25, was deemed eligible by FIBA after it was made clear that he acquired his Philippine passport at the age of eight. 

Born to a Filipina mother and an American father, Malonzo could not hide his delight at the development.

"Honestly, for me, it's like a dream come true," Malonzo told reporters on Wednesday night, after NorthPort's 117-112 loss to the TNT Tropang GIGA where he scored 27 points.

"I know that's just the first step. Getting on the team is one thing. But, hopefully, I get the chance to represent the country and make my family, my mom, and everybody proud," he added.

It was his mother who told Malonzo that he should be able to play for the Philippines without being considered a naturalized player. The 6-foot-7 forward recalled being asked "a thousand times" if he was eligible to play as a local, but it wasn't until his mother produced the paperwork that they were able to get the process started.

"Just recently, we were able to get it to SBP and then we're able to get that to FIBA, and then I was able to go through it," said Malonzo.

Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes touched base with Malonzo during a recent trip to Las Vegas ahead of the new PBA season, and received a copy of the player's passport. 

Reyes said Wednesday that even before he went to the United States -- where he oversaw a tryout of Filipino-American players for the national under-16 team -- Malonzo had already told him that he should be eligible to play.

"Dito pa lang sinabi na niya sa 'kin, sabi niya sa 'kin, 'Coach, I don't know why people are saying that I'm not eligible. My mom kept saying I'm eligible'," Reyes said. "Pagpunta ko sa Las Vegas, nag-usap kami, sabi ko akin na 'yung passport."

"Pag-uwi ko dito, I had a copy of his passport that showed he had this passport when he was eight years old. So he's eligible, all this while, he's eligible," he added.

 NorthPort's Jamie Malonzo dunks against the TerraFirma Dyip. PBA Images
NorthPort's Jamie Malonzo dunks against the TerraFirma Dyip. PBA Images

With FIBA granting him clearance and designating him as a local player in its portal, Malonzo is now formally included in the pool of players for Gilas Pilipinas, Reyes confirmed. 

It remains to be seen when he will first suit up for the national team, but it's clear that the NorthPort forward is excited at the prospect.

"When I was back in college [in the US], I came here with a dream to play for the national team," said Malonzo, who was a one-and-done for De La Salle University before becoming the second pick in the 2020 PBA Rookie Draft.

"Now that I just got cleared by FIBA, it's super exciting," he said. "For me, it still feels surreal that I'm just eligible. It's like a dream come true."

With his athleticism and two-way ability, Malonzo figures to make an impact for Gilas if and when he gets called up. The forward said he wants to bring his versatility into the team, and put in the work both in offense and defense when he plays for the Philippines. 

Reyes, for his part, stressed that there are no guarantees for Malonzo who must first earn his place in the team, as every player before him has done.

"We have to see how he plays with the other guys and how he plays in the international competition. Ibang-iba 'yung laro ng international, as you all know. It's a different animal altogether, so he has to be able to feel that as well," he said.

"Mabigat din 'yung may dala kang Pilipinas dito, that's a ton. That weighs a ton kung hindi sanay doon. It's not like you'll wear it… It's different, so you have to have that experience," he added.

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