#FreeWill: KBL imports show support after Navarro barred from playing

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 19 2022 01:17 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2022 01:43 PM

Gilas Pilipinas forward William Navarro. FIBA.basketball
Gilas Pilipinas forward William Navarro. FIBA.basketball

MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino players continue to speak up in support of William Navarro, who has been barred from playing for the Seoul Samsung Thunders in the Korean Basketball League (KBL).

Navarro was announced as the Thunders' Asian import in July, but the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) confirmed on Sunday that he was not granted a letter of clearance (LOC) because he has a live contract with the federation.

FIBA, the world governing body of basketball, did not issue the LOC as they ruled that Navarro must uphold his contract. It's a decision that has not sat well with Filipino players, especially those who are now plying their trade abroad.

RJ Abarrientos, who will suit up for the Ulsan Hyundai Mobis in the KBL, questioned why Navarro's dream was being impeded.

"REALLY??? An impediment in someone's dream? You all should SUPPORT Filipino athletes who are playing abroad. Similar to any other profession, you'll do what's best for your career!" the former Far Eastern University guard said on an Instagram story. 

"They are choosing to play and strengthen their ability while representing our country," he added.

Former De La Salle-College of St. Benilde standout Justin Gutang, for his part, wondered if it was wrong for Filipinos to pursue their dreams by playing overseas.

"It's sad to see someone who's worked so hard to get where they're at now have their dreams taken away just like that. Is it that wrong for Filipino athletes to choose playing abroad?" said Gutang, who signed with Changwon LG. 

"Are they not allowed to choose a path that will benefit them along the way? I mean Filipino athletes playing overseas are still representing the Philippines," Gutang pointed out. "Everyone should spread love and positivity to all athletes in every profession playing abroad."

Gutang added the hashtag "#FreeWill" to his Instagram story on Sunday night.

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Meanwhile, SJ Belangel -- the first Filipino to sign with a KBL team -- made it clear that even when playing abroad, they keep the Philippines close to their hearts.

"Always remember that we are still repping the Filipino flag no matter where we play," said Belangel, who will play professionally for the Daegu Korea Gas Corporation Pegasus.

The so-called exodus of Filipino players to overseas leagues has been a cause for concern for the PBA and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas. Al Panlilio, the president of the national federation, even raised the issue during a recent meeting with the Senate Committee on Sports.

PBA officials, in a visit to their counterparts to Japan's B.League this weekend, said that the decision of Filipino players to sign with B.League clubs have had a negative impact not just on the PBA, but also on the national team.

But Belangel made it clear that they are opting to go abroad "not because we hate Philippine basketball."

"We are here to pursue every athlete's dream to reach our fullest potential, and even go beyond our dreams," the former Ateneo de Manila University point guard said. "Everyday, we are working hard to make our country proud, never saying that Philippine basketball is [the] worst place to play in."

Navarro has yet to make a public statement since the SBP decision was reported. On Monday morning, it was confirmed that he was called up to practice with Gilas Pilipinas for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers in November.

The forward has played just 13 games since 2020, all of them with the national team. Navarro was drafted by NorthPort in the special Gilas round of the 2021 PBA Rookie Draft.

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