Now that a bill (House Bill No. 6169) to grant Philippine citizenship to NBA star JaVale McGee had been filed in Congress, there could be two naturalized imports available for the Smart Gilas Pilipinas national men's basketball team before the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, where the top three teams advance to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Currently, former Providence Friar Marcus Douthit is the resident import for Gilas after being conferred Philippine citizenship (Republic Act 10148) last year.
If McGee is also granted the same honor, new Gilas coach Chot Reyes will have the rare privilege of choosing between the Denver Nuggets center and Douthit. FIBA only allows one naturalized player per team, and this concession has been gladly availed even by powerhouse basketball countries like Spain, Russia and Germany. In Asia, the national teams of Lebanon, Jordan, Korea and Japan all have exercised their right to compete with a naturalized player.
Obviously, the undersized Philippine team badly needs a shot in the arm at the center position to match up against the behemoths of China, Iran, Korea, Jordan, Lebanon and Qatar. Defending Asian champion China has four players over 6'9" — the 6'11" Yi Jianlian, 6'11" Su Wei, 7'0" Wang Zhizhi, and 7'3" Zhang Zhaoxu. Two-time FIBA-Asia titlist Iran has 7'2" Hamed Haddadi and 6'11" Asghar Kardoust. In the present Gilas pool, the tallest player is 6'7" Sonny Thoss, even when 7'0" Greg Slaughter is expected to be included after the UAAP season.
Perhaps the only time that McGee and Douthit went head-to-head was during an exhibition game between Gilas and NBA superstars last year, which the latter expectedly won, 98-89. McGee, who topscored with 25 markers against the PBA All-Stars the night before, was limited by Douthit to just 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. Douthit had 14 points but hit back-to-back baskets in the final minutes of the game to spark a strong comeback by Gilas from a 21-point deficit down to just seven. This rally prompted the star-struck 21,000 strong crowd at the Big Dome to start rooting for the Nationals. McGee's teammates included Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derek Fisher, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Williams and James Harden. Bryant led all scorers in that game with 17. Six of the 14 slam dunks by the visiting team came from McGee.
So who should Smart Gilas pick as its naturalized import — Douthit or McGee?
Here are some factors to consider:
- PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES. Logically, priority should be given to the size and strength of the candidates since these are what the team lacks. McGee is listed at 7'1" and 252 pounds while Douthit is 6'11" and weighs 233 pounds. McGee has a wingspan of seven feet and six and a half inches, the largest of any player in the NBA today. But Douthit's wingspan is not too far behind, at seven feet and four inches. Both are incredibly athletic but Javale is a lot quicker. In Chot's up-tempo style and dribble-drive motion system, quickness is a major consideration. Both McGee and Douthit are not known as bangers on the court. But McGee appears to be the stronger one physically. He is also eight years younger than Douthit, at only 24.
- SKILLS. There is no question that both candidates can play in the highest level of the sport. Offensively however, Douthit has the edge in skills. Marcus is an excellent post player, especially when facing the basket. He's got a variety of moves inside the paint with his remarkable footwork. One of his signature moves is the spin and up-and-under attack. Douthit is also a terrific ball-handler and he can certainly dribble from one end of the court to the other. More importantly, he is an excellent perimeter shooter. Against taller defenders, Marcus has the option of taking the outside shot, or penetrating the defense. McGee does not have too many offensive moves, and scores mostly on putbacks and alley-oops. Defensively however, the advantage goes to Javale. He is more aggressive in swatting shots and crashing the boards. With his height and wingspan, he can surely shackle post players and intimidate slashers. Since the current Gilas pool boasts of several scorers, a defensive specialist may be the preferred choice.
- CREDENTIALS. Having played already five seasons in the NBA, including the recent first round of the Western Conference playoffs, McGee can definitely brag about his accomplishments. He was picked 18th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft and played four years with Washington before being traded to Denver. Of the 275 regular games he played, he was a starter 153 times. He also plays significant minutes, averaging 21.2 minutes per game. His numbers are noteworthy as well, with 8.6 points, 6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and an amazing 53% field goal shooting. His norms in rebounding and shot-blocks improved to 9.6 and 3 respectively during the recent playoffs. Douthit never got to play in the NBA although he almost made it to the rosters of the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers. He was selected by the Lakers 56th over-all in 2004.
- INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE. Without a doubt, Douthit has the upper hand in international experience. He's played in professional leagues in Belgium, Turkey, Russia, Korea, the Philippines and China. In all these places, the FIBA rules were practiced. Of course, Douthit also suited up with Gilas in several international meets including the last Asian championship. In contrast, McGee's stints were with the University of Nevada in the US NCAA, and the NBA. The FIBA rules don't apply in both leagues. The closest that McGee got to playing international basketball were in a scrimmage as part of the United States national team pool in 2010, and the exhibition game in Manila last year.
- ATTITUDE. This is unquestionably a huge factor in any national team. Playing for pride and honor is crucial. The attitude of national players towards playing for flag and country instead of money is a major consideration. Douthit has been part of the Gilas program for at least two years now and has not displayed any major attitude problem so far. He's had some little quarrels with former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman before but these were just all part of the day's work. McGee has expressed his interest in playing for the Philippines but until he does, there's no telling how his attitude would be.
- ADAPTABILITY. How the import will adapt to both the country and international games is indeed of utmost importance. McGee at his young age has never left the US for a long period of time. If he joins Gilas, he will have to stay here for months. Douthit has adapted pretty well in the country and has learned to embrace some of its culture. It also takes some time to get used to the international game where teams commonly play everyday for a week or two. And the constant traveling can be taxing as well.
- COMMITMENT. Serving the national team is no walk in the park. It takes a lot of sacrifice from its members. The naturalized player is one of the most important players, if not the most important, in the team. His commitment could spell the difference between success and failure. Douthit has shown his commitment by relocating his family here and even transferring his daughter to a local school. The preparation for the major competitions is going to depend largely on the availability of the import to join the training. But the imports need not be in the country for an entire year. In the case of McGee, he can still see action for the Nuggets during the NBA season then return here when it ends.
- MARKETABILITY. If McGee does wear the Philippine colors, it would be a gigantic boost to the image of the country, having a legit NBA personality. Gilas will be the instant talk of the town in Asian meets. Not only is McGee an imposing figure but also an exciting athlete who loves to finish with a slam dunk. Unless Yao Ming comes out of retirement, he will definitely outshine other NBA veterans in Asia, past and present, like China's Yi and Wang, Iran's Haddadi, Korea's Ha Seung-Jin and Japan's Yuta Tabuse. He might find some competition though in the popularity department if Jeremy Lin suits up for Chinese Taipei.
- BEHAVIOR OFF THE COURT. Representing a country also demands good behavior even off the court. The image of a country can easily be stained when one of its athletes misbehaves. In the past, there had been some cases where PBA imports got into trouble here. The SBP also had its share of roguish imports before Douthit came along. Fortunately for Gilas, Marcus knows his limits with regard to off-the-court activities. So far there have not been any unpleasant reports about McGee's life outside basketball.
- CONTINUITY OF THE PROGRAM. It's not easy naturalizing a foreigner. Congress will not keep processing applications for citizenship all the time. This is partly why the SBP chose a young player to be a candidate for naturalization. At 24, McGee can serve the national team for as long as ten years. Douthit can still play competitively for at least two more years. But the entry of McGee can ensure continuity of the program, and offer an option in case some unforeseen events occur.
When the time comes, Chot, SBP and the Smart Gilas management will have to decide who between the two candidates will be part of the national team's roster. But a lot will depend on the negotiations with McGee after he is granted Philippine citizenship. In case of a stalemate, Douthit is very much capable of leading the nationals to battle. He was, after all, the best player in the whole FIBA Asia Championship last year. But if things fall into place with McGee, then chances are this kid from Michigan would be the man in the middle for Gilas II.
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