In first home game, Clarkson indulges a thrilled crowd led by Marcos as Gilas destroys visiting Saudi Arabia
Chris Newsome was dribbling, letting the shotclock buzzer go off when a crowd of close to 20,000 led by President Marcos at courtside gave Gilas Pilipinas a much-deserved standing ovation.
Jordan Clarkson led the National Five in giving the sellout Mall of Asia Arena crowd a show to remember as Team Philippines, despite a bum start, blew Saudi Arabia to kingdom come, 84-46 at the close of Window 4 of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia World Cup Qualifying series.
Clarkson was the only thing that was going well in a forgettable first quarter for Gilas, and when he had led the Filipinos into a rhythm, the rout was on and it was indeed ugly for the visitors.
“It feels great,” Clarkson said moments after the final buzzer as he was asked at centercourt how it was playing on Philippine soil for the first time. “Even though I am at the other side of the world … I know Filipinos got my back and I got theirs as well.”
The crowd cheered his every move, jeered the opponents no end, and when the smoke of this one-sided battle cleared, Mr. Marcos was shoulder-to-shoulder with tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan giving the Nationals the adulation worthy of kings.
“Well, the one thing that we wanted to focus on before the game was to just get better—play better from our game against Lebanon. And that meant playing with more effort,” coach Chot Reyes, who undeservedly got jeered by the crowd because of the slow start, said. “I think we achieved it. As long as we get shots, we like our chances. Very happy with the results but even happier for the effort.”
Repaying the love
“I appreciate everybody,” Clarkson went on after finishing with 23 points, six assists and five rebounds—numbers which could have been greater had he played longer. “We’re building something special [here], so let’s get it.”
There were other champions who came through for the hosts on National Heroes Day, with young big man Kai Sotto chipping in 16 and program cornerstone Dwight Ramos nine more.
A total of 19,829 screaming, animated souls were treated to a bevy of highlights: from Clarkson’s long, buzzer-beating triple to end the opening frame, to Ramos’ emphatic slam over a Saudi big man, and Sotto’s defense and near-intuitive chemistry with the NBA star.
“We’re just trying to figure it out quick to get ready for the World Cup next year,” Clarkson said.
Gilas was actually frosty early on as Saudi Arabia even led by eight, and Reyes was booed multiple times.
Asked to comment on the boos that Reyes got, Clarkson was very blunt about it: “That’s some b……t!”
Ramos approached it rather diplomatically: “Thank you for coming out and supporting, but if you’re gonna support us, I’ll appreciate you guys not booing our coach. We’re all together as one and I really didn’t appreciate that.
“It wasn’t a good way for us to start the game. So if you’re gonna support us, support all of us cause we’re all in one team.”
The hosts managed to overcome that shaky start come the second quarter.
Sotto, the 7-foot-3 NBA hopeful, also hauled down 13 rebounds and had a couple of highlight plays, counting a two-handed dunk coming off a Clarkson lob. He also had four blocks as he takes some great memories in his latest national team stint before heading back to Australia to play for Adelaide.
The Philippines improved to 3-3 in the showcase that the local cage leaders are using as an “evaluation period” geared toward the World Cup here a year from now.
On tap for Gilas in a pair of games scheduled this November are Jordan and then the Saudis once again.
Musab Tariq Kadi, Khalid Abdel Gabar and Mathna Almarwani led the way for Saudi Arabia with nine points each. Mohammed Almarwani tossed in eight more as the visitors dropped to 1-5. INQ
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