JAKARTA—Jordan Clarkson is excited to finally play for the Philippines in the 2018 Asian Games, but cannot commit with any certainty to the national team beyond that.
Clarkson, who first got involved with the national team program in 2015, will make his highly anticipated debut against China on Tuesday, with the Filipinos eyeing the top spot in Group D.
“I'm here now, ready to compete, now it's time to fight on the court and go get wins,” said Clarkson on Sunday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers guard had expressed his frustration about the roller-coaster ride he took to these Games, as he was initially barred from playing by the NBA before finally getting clearance on the eve of the Philippines’ first game.
He immediately took a flight to this city, and arrived during the third quarter of the Philippines’ game against Kazakhstan.
“I actually told my agent, I was like, man I'm coming, the only way I'm coming is if I'm playing. I can't come to sit no more,” Clarkson told reporters during a press conference at Ritz Carlton here.
“I was like the only way I'm getting in that plane is if I'm playing, I'm suiting up in that uniform. So just being able to represent the country, that's how passionate I was, and you know I was tired of just sitting there, tired of being denied.
“After that, it's like, after being told no so many times, you just you wanna give up but we kept fighting, and that's what's it all about.”
Presence of NBA players will help sport spread more
Clarkson was one of three NBA players who got a “one time exemption” from the league to play in the Asiad, but he believes that the response to their participation will encourage the NBA to be more lenient in the future.
“I think so,” he said when asked if he will be allowed to play in more tournaments. “I think it's a lot going on over here in Asia, it's definitely gonna help the game spread more.”
Clarkson observed that other than football, basketball appeared to be the most popular sport in Asia. He noted that on the biggest continent in the world, kids don’t play American football as he did in his youth -- instead they are playing hoops.
“People aren't strapping up helmets and going out there, hitting each other on the field over here in Asia. I feel like they're picking up a basketball more. So I feel like the NBA is starting to get that and allowing us to do more things, it's a blessing for that,” he said.
As much as he would want to represent the Philippines in future international tournaments, however, Clarkson is unsure if he can do so. He was uncertain if he can play for flag and country in the upcoming window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, for instance, because it will be in conflict with the NBA schedule.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Not right now in terms of schedule and stuff, but we’ll see.”
“Definitely, I’ll talk to my team about that stuff right now,” he also said.
Philippine sports officials, however, are determined to see Clarkson in a national team uniform as often as possible. Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Ricky Vargas even joked that he would love for Clarkson to play in the Southeast Asian Games, which the Philippines will be hosting in 2019.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano agreed. “We're hoping he can play, and I'm sure that he can generate enough fans that we can put up a New Clarkson City beside the New Clark City,” he said.
For Clarkson, however, his full focus is on these Asian Games and helping the Philippines break a medal drought in basketball that goes all the way back to 1998.
“This whole process has been a great experience for me,” he said. “From day 1, getting off the plane, meeting and being around my teammates, it just felt good.”
“So definitely, placing, getting a medal, it would be amazing. It would be an amazing achievement.”
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