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    McGee, Austin and other Gilas naturalized players over the years

    Apr 20, 2020

    NATURALIZED players have long been looked at as game-changers, especially for a nation like the Philippines which is in dire need of ceiling to be competitive in international competitions.

    The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has taken full advantage of that rule, shuffling through a number of candidates over the years in the hope of beefing up the national team's frontline.

    As expected, some have panned out while a number did not.

    That search continues today, with the federation looking at Justin Brownlee and Chris McCullough as potential naturalization candidates as the two have been vocal in their desire to acquire a Philippine passport and represent the country.

    But before they become full-fledged Filipinos, Spin.ph looked back on the past candidates who the SBP eyed. Some of them got a chance to don the national tri-colors. Some never got that far.

    Take a look at all of them:

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    CJ Giles

    Undrafted in the 2008 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-11 center out of Kansas and Oregon State was at the top of Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman's list for naturalization. He tried his luck in the NBA D-League with the Los Angeles D-Fenders and the Sioux Falls Skyforce before eventually linking up with the SBP.

    Giles made an immediate impact for Smart Gilas as he averaged 18.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.7 steals in the Philippines' fifth-place finish in the 2009 Fiba Asia Champions Cup in Jakarta.

    He briefly played for the Nationals in the 2009-2010 PBA Philippine Cup, but it didn't last long as he had a falling-out with Toroman, reportedly due to his bad behavior as he repeatedly came to practice with a hangover.

    Giles soon found himself roaming in the Middle Eastern circuit, and was eventually agreed to be a naturalized player for Bahrain.

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    Jamal Sampson

    Reeling from Giles' exit, the SBP scampered for a replacement and linked up with Sampson, a five-year NBA veteran who had stints with the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings, and Denver Nuggets.

    The 6-foot-11 center, at that time aged 26, was a welcome addition to the amateur-laden side in late 2009 but failed to move the needle in his short time here.

    Sampson was hobbled by a left knee injury when Smart Gilas went to the 2010 Dubai International Basketball Tournament, averaging only 9.8 points in the four games he played - all of which in limited minutes - as the Filipinos finished with the bronze medal.

    Things didn't get any better from there as the California product butted heads with Toroman as well as then-SBP executive director Noli Eala, when they returned to the country. That led to his eventual exit from the program.

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    He quickly moved on, taking his talents to the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) after his short stay in the country.

    Dwayne Jones

    Jones, an NBA D-League All-Star for the Austin Toros, was invited by SBP to be a naturalization candidate in 2010. Plans looked well on its way before the 6-foot-11 banger from St. Joseph's chose to sign with the Phoenix Suns.

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    At age 23, he did play in the Philippines as an import for the Powerade in the 2012 Commissioner's Cup. He, however, failed to help the Tigers to advance in the playoffs as they could only muster a 4-5 record.

    Jones found his way back to the NBA the following year with the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz, before taking his act to Qatar, Venezuela, and Argentina, with his last being with Atenas de Córdoba in the Argentinian Liga Nacional de Básquet.

    Since 2018, he has served as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

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    Milan Vucicevic

    With the Americans failing to deliver, Toroman went to his fellow Serbian Milan Vucicevic in 2010. The hefty 6-foot-10 bruiser suited up for Smart Gilas in the 2010 Fiba Asia Champions Cup in Doha and impressed the coaches with his work ethic and attitude.

    His highlight for the Philippines was his buzzer-beater that lifted the Filipinos to a thrilling 76-74 win over Duhok of Iraq to advance to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, Smart Gilas only finished seventh in the tournament as Toroman and the SBP brass chose to part ways with Vucicevic.


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    Marcus Douthit

    The fifth time proved to be the charm for the SBP as Douthit, despite being the oldest among the prospects being 30 at that time, was just what the doctor ordered for the national team.

    Steady at the paint, the 6-foot-11 center out of Providence gave the youthful Smart Gilas the stability it needed, one that was in full view in his national team debut in the 2010 MVP Invitational Champions' Cup.

    Turned out it was only a glimpse of what the future held as he secured his Filipino citizenship in 2011 and became a staple of the national team ever since, winning gold medals in the 2012 Jones Cup and another pair in the Southeast Asian Games.

    Not even the coaching change from Rajko Toroman to Chot Reyes could take Douthit out of the equation as he was a huge part of Gilas Pilipinas' silver-medal drive in the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship here.

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    His last stint for the national team was in the 2014 Asian Games, where he infamously scored on the Philippines' own goal in the squad's desperate try to force overtime against Kazakhstan.

    Douthit played as an import anew for Blackwater in the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup before signing with Mighty Sports. He last played for Narvacan City in the 2019 Chooks-to-Go 3x3 Manila Challenger.

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    Javale McGee

    Enjoying his Philippine visits seemed to be enough to convince McGee to consider obtaining a Filipino citizenship. That was the biggest news in 2012 when the 7-foot center expressed his interest and fueled speculations with posts on his Twitter account, including exchanges with coach Chot Reyes.

    Hype continued to build as McGee seemingly turned himself around from his forgettable four-year run with the Washington Wizards and played his best for the Denver Nuggets.

    Antipolo Rep. Robbie Puno even went as far as filed House Bill No. 6169 which sought for McGee's naturalization.

    But none of those plans came to fruition as McGee lost the spot to his former Wizards teammate Andray Blatche.

    The Nevada product moved on with his NBA career, suiting up for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Dallas Mavericks before experiencing a career resurgence by winning two championships as a member of the Golden State Warriors. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.

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    Andray Blatche

    Easily the most marquee name in this list, Blatche was a shining light for Gilas Pilipinas in his five-year tenure. The Syracuse-born center gained his Filipino citizenship in 2014, in time for the Philippines' return to the world stage in the Fiba World Cup in Spain.

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    Blatche averaged 21.2 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals in the tilt, including an 18-14 double-double that lifted Gilas over Senegal, 81-79 in overtime for the nation's first World Cup victory in 40 years.

    The 6-foot-11 center continued to represent the country in the years after, capturing a silver medal for the Tab Baldwin-coached Philippine side in the 2015 Fiba Asia Championship in Wuhan.

    Blatche's run, however, did have its share of controversies with him repeatedly showing up out of shape in the latter years. His lowest point, though, was taking part in the Philippines-Australia brawl at Philippine Arena in 2018 during the Asian qualifiers of the 2019 Fiba World Cup which earned him a six-game suspension.

    Blatche did return in time for the 2019 Fiba World Cup in China, but failed to rekindle his thunder five years prior and failed to lead the Philippines to a victory in five games.

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    His last run was with Mighty Sports, where a youth-laden Filipino side swept their way to the gold in the 2020 Dubai International Basketball Tournament.

    Isaiah Austin

    Austin's NBA dreams were crushed when he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome in the leadup to the 2014 NBA Draft. After a two-year hiatus, the 7-foot-1 center out of Baylor gained his clearance and found his way to Asia and eventually, in the Philippines.

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    Austin was signed as an import for Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas for the 2017 Fiba Asia Champions Cup in Chenzhou and was impressive through seven games, averaging 20.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 2.4 assists.

    Most impressive was his 37-point, 15-board, 6-assist, and 6-block performance in the Filipinos' 89-79 victory over Thai side Mono Vampire in the battle for fifth place.

    Though those plans failed to gain ground, Austin later on got deals from Lebanon and China and is now playing for Mets de Guaynabo in Puerto Rico.

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    Greg Smith

    An NBA veteran who boasts of stints with the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Minnesota Timberwolves, Smith was a highly-touted reinforcement when Blackwater signed him up for the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup.

    The 6-foot-9 center from Fresno State did not shy away from showing his worth, posting averages of 27.7 points, 21.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.0 blocks for the Elite.

    So solid was his performance that Blackwater owner Dioceldo Sy vouched for Smith's inclusion in the pool, met with the SBP bigwigs, and even trained with Gilas Pilipinas, which was then preparing for the 2017 SEABA Championship.

    Even Smith hoped for everything to work out. But when he returned for Blackwater in 2019, nothing came out of Smith's planned naturalization.

    He did lead the Elite to a franchise-best third place with a 7-4 card in the eliminations of the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup, but they eventually lost to Rain or Shine in the quarterfinals in three hard-fought games.

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    Smith now plays for Mineros de Zacatecas in Mexico.

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