Greg Smith a top candidate for naturalization after meeting with Gilas officials
Greg Smith has attended Gilas practice and has expressed interest to be part of the national team as a naturalized player. 

GREG Smith looms as the top candidate to be a back-up to Andray Blatche as one of two naturalized players in the Gilas Pilipinas training pool program.

That became a tantalizing possibility on Thursday as Blackwater officials held a formal talk with national team manager Butch Antonio regarding plans to naturalize the 6-foot-10 Smith, who currently plays for the Elite in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Over lunch, Smith, 26, expressed interest in playing for the country in future international meets. And while he’ll have to run through the idea with his manager, he doesn’t see any problem convincing his agent.

“It was a very good meeting. Everything was positive,” according to Blackwater owner Dioceldo Sy, who accompanied Smith and team manager Johnson Martinez to the meeting with Antonio.

[See Find Blatche replacement now, Guiao urges Gilas]

If ever, Sy proposed that Smith be tried first by Gilas for about a year before taking him in.

"That's what I laid down on the table, for the national team to play Greg for a year and decide whether he stays or not," said Sy.  

At the moment, Blatche is the listed naturalized player for Gilas who will suit up for the national team in next week’s Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship.

But with coach Chot Reyes looking ahead as far as the 2023 FIBA World Cup as part of Gilas’ long-term program, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) deemed it wise to have another younger naturalized player to be included in the national team’s training pool,

“Coach Chot mentioned about looking beyond the 2019 FIBA World Cup, meaning into the 2020 Olympics and 2023 World Cup, And Andray would be 35 or 36 by then, so this is part of Gilas’ future plans.

In working the naturalization of Smith, Sy said he’ll also try to apply the same with Philippine-born Kelly Hardeman for her to be eligible to play for Perlas Pilipinas.

“Sabay na sana sila para isang proseso na lang,” said the long-time basketball patron.

Sy knows the naturalization process would need a long time before Congress could act on it, although Antipolo City representative Chiqui Roa-Puno will initiate the move in the Lower House, while Senator Sonny Angara takes care of business in the Upper House..

Roa is the wife of SBP vice chairman Robbie Puno, while Angara is SBP chairman.


Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos