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JORDAN Clarkson powers Gilas Pilipinas to a fifth-place finish in the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PSC

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) overflows with pride after Filipino-American swingman Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz bagged the Sixth Man of the Year award of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

In a statement, SBP president Al Panlilio lauded the achievement of the 28-year-old Clarkson, who edged teammate Joe Ingles and Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks for the prestigious award.

Panlilio said he was no longer surprised when Clarkson emerged with the Sixth Man plum as he already saw his hard work, dedication and passion during his short stint with Gilas Pilipinas in the 18th Asian Games in 2018.

Clarkson is regarded as the savior of Gilas during his brief — but unforgettable — stint in the continental meet in Jakarta.

In fact, the federation wasn’t supposed to send a team to the Asian Games as it came at the heels of the infamous brawl with Australia in the FIBA World Cup qualifier at the Philippine Arena.

At that time, the SBP was still licking the wounds created by an avalanche of sanctions slapped against Gilas head coach Chot Reyes and other key players, prompting it to withdraw its participation in the Asian Games.

With public pressure mounting, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) came to the rescue and assembled a rag-tag team that will represent the country in the Asian Games.

Rain or Shine stood as chief backer while Yeng Guiao was appointed as head coach of the squad that had role players like Chris Tiu and Don Trollano, veterans like Asi Taulava, James Yap, Gabe Norwood and Beau Belga and young guns like Maverick Ahanmisi, Paul Lee, Christian Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle.

There were talks that Clarkson would join the team, but nothing was certain as the NBA has yet to issue its go-signal and he wasn’t in the lineup with his eligibility papers still in doubt.

But to everybody’s surprise, Clarkson took a flight from Los Angeles to Singapore and straight to GBK Basketball Hall in downtown Jakarta to watch Gilas Pilipinas clash with Kazakhstan in the group stage.
The Filipinos won the match, 96-59, but their biggest victory was when the NBA gave Clarkson a “one-time exception” to suit up for the national squad.

Clarkson didn’t waste any time as he acclimatized with his new team and learned the system of Guiao in the next four days. He even donned a barong tagalog and carried the Philippine flag in the traditional parade of colors, signifying that he is one with his countrymen in representing the country.

With Clarkson doing damage at the offensive end, Gilas emerged with a fifth-place finish for their best ranking in the Asian Games in 16 years.

Panlilio said he couldn’t forget how Clarkson represented the country in the international arena.

“Congratulations on winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, Jordan,” Panlilio said in a statement Tuesday.

“In his short and sweet stint with Gilas Pilipinas, Clarkson showed us not only his world-class talent but also gave us a glimpse of the hard work and dedication necessary to get to that level.”
“Getting a front-row look at Jordan during Asian Games made us all believe that he will accomplish great things in the NBA.”

Clarkson said he embraced the role of being a bench player in which he averaged 18.4 points, four rebounds and three assists per game — the highest among all reserves in the league.

He topped the voting race and garnered 65 first-place votes (407 points) out of a 100-man panel of reporters and league sportswriters around the world.

The grandson of Marcelina Tullao of Pampanga also highlighted his season with a couple of 40-point outbursts. He exploded for 40 points against Philadelphia on 15 February followed by a stunning 41-point performance against Golden State last 10 May.

“When I got that role, I just kind of took it, worked at it,” said Clarkson, second-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014, in an interview shortly after bagging the plum.

“Being traded here to Utah from Cleveland — it really enhanced everything, just because everybody knows their role and knows what they are doing.”

Panlilio said Clarkson would always have a spot in the hearts of the Filipinos.

“Once a Gilas, always a Gilas.”

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