The SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national program is working to make NBA center JaVale McGee a naturalized Filipino citizen to allow him to represent the Philippines in international competition.
SMART-Gilas operations manager Butch Antonio confirmed the news to InterAKTV on Tuesday, shortly after coach Chot Reyes announced his wishlist of 16 PBA players to be included in the national pool. He said that the group has already had discussions with McGee about the plan.
“We’ve talked with him about that. It was Coach Chot who approached him and told him the possibility of naturalizing him when the NBA star went here to endorse SMART.”
He added that they are currently in communication with Antipolo representative Robbie Puno about passing a bill for McGee’s naturalization.
“[Puno] helped us in the naturalization of [Marcus] Douthit,” said Antonio. “But we know McGee’s naturalization has to go through a process.”
Antonio said that McGee’s potential entry does not mean the end of Douthit’s run with the national team.
“It’s not an immediate need naman,” said Antonio about McGee. “We’re doing this as a long-term plan. Of course, Marcus is still here, but it would be better if we have another option aside from Douthit.”
“If we can have [McGee] in the next two years, that would be better, but we’re doing this for continuity of the program,” Antonio added.
McGee visited the Philippines twice last year, and endeared himself to fans during the SMART Ultimate All Star Weekend with his athletic dunks. Last January, he said he would be open to representing the Philippine team in international competition.
“Just heard from Coach Chot [Reyes] that the Philippine national team is about to be formed. Would love to represent the Philippines if given the chance,” wrote McGee on his Twitter account.
A first round pick by the Washington Wizards in 2008, he earned himself a spot in the starting lineup, even as he was criticized for his occasional lack of concentration on the court. After being traded to the Denver Nuggets midway through this season, McGee made an immediate impact by making a game-winning putback dunk against the Detroit Pistons in his debut for his new team.
If plans to have McGee in the lineup come through, SMART-Gilas will have an NBA-caliber center to match up with the top teams in Asia. The last two nations to win the FIBA Asia Championship, China and Iran, feature NBA players Yi Jianlian and Hamed Haddadi in their respective lineups.