Responding to questions in the affirmative with an “opo,” Justin Brownlee, the well-loved American import of Barangay Ginebra in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), dazzled a Senate panel well enough — like he does pro league fans every night for the Gin Kings since 2016 — that he has taken another step closer to becoming a Filipino citizen.
Appearing before the Senate justice committee on Monday just hours after another sterling display for Ginebra in the Commissioner’s Cup, Brownlee, clad in a traditional “barong” tagalog, got praises from presiding Sen. Francis Tolentino for his enthusiasm and eagerness to represent the Philippines in international competitions.
That could come as early as February next year when Gilas Pilipinas plays in the sixth window of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup Asian Qualifying, a stint which will endear Brownlee more to fans of this basketball-crazed country.
“We have seen Brownlee’s attitude over the last six years. His character, skills and attitude are worthy of emulation by young Filipinos,” Tolentino said.
Brownlee expressed his gratitude to the senators as he reiterated his eagerness to play for Gilas as a naturalized Filipino.
“[Playing for the Philippines] means a lot. Coming here in 2016, right off the bat, I just received so much love and admiration from the fans,” Brownlee told the senators.
“I can’t believe it. It’s overwhelming. Just wearing the [Philippine] flag allows me to give back to the people,” he said.
Senate majority leader Joel Villanueva, who filed one of the Senate bills granting Brownlee Filipino citizenship, credited the American for his perseverance in developing his game, a quality that endeared him to the fans of the most popular team in the PBA.
“I can see your tenacity and passion to really prove yourself … It could have been easy for you to give up and return to the US, but you stayed,” Villanueva said of Brownlee.
Villanueva said the Senate will immediately set the plenary deliberations on the consolidated measures to allow Brownlee to join Gilas in the next round of qualifying window.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa asked Brownlee to join in his antidrug advocacy, noting that young Filipinos look up to sports personalities as role models.
Brownlee has been attending Gilas practices since September, and national coach Chot Reyes is all praises on the player that he has handled for the first time—and who has given him a lot of nightmares over the years, counting another on Sunday night when Reyes’ TNT crew bowed to Ginebra, 89-85.
“I haven’t seen a player as selfless,” Reyes had told the Inquirer in an earlier interview, just when the process for Brownlee’s naturalization was starting and why he was being selected.
“He doesn’t have any inhibitions that this (Gilas) will be his team,” Reyes went on. “He doesn’t mind being the back up [naturalized player behind Jordan Clarkson].
“And that, for me, is the biggest thing about him.”
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has made it known that Gilas will be bannered by Clarkson when the country hosts the main event in August next year since all leagues in the world would have been concluded to make way for the global showcase.
Clarkson plays—and is turning out to be the biggest star after Donovan Mitchell was traded—for surprising Utah in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
“Justin knows it,” Reyes said, referring to Clarkson taking Brownlee’s place once the NBA ends. “But he doesn’t mind. He still shows up for practice every time and gives it his all.” INQ
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