What Justin Brownlee’s Filipino citizenship means for Gilas Pilipinas
Justin Brownlee, one of the most prolific imports to play in the Philippine Basketball Association, is finally a Filipino citizen all thanks to Republic Act 11937 which was signed into law on Thursday.
The development was a swift resolution to a second bid that got going around September last year.
Who is Justin Brownlee?
Justin Donta Brownlee is a 6-foot-6 American forward who serves as a resident import for Barangay Ginebra, arguably the most popular club in the PBA.
A native of Tifton, Georgia, Brownlee—who went undrafted in the 2011 NBA draft—has been playing professionally for nearly 12 years now. He has had stops in Mexico, France, Lebanon on top of multiple stints in the Philippines.
He is best known in the Philippines for his buzzer-beating triple in Game 6 of the 2016 Governors’ Cup Finals that handed Barangay Ginebra’ the championship against Meralco. He also previously reinforced Filipino clubs San Miguel Alab Pilipinas and Mighty Sports Philippines.
Since that title-winning shot, Brownlee has blossomed into a five-time PBA champion and three-time Best Import awardee. A tireless player on the court and a personable fellow off of it, Brownlee also became endeared to both the Gin Kings fandom and opposing PBA teams.
What Brownlee’s naturalization means for Gilas Pilipinas
Brownlee’s naturalization is the result of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ plan to beef up the pool of players to fill a specialized slot for each national team in Fiba tournaments.
That role was last fulfilled by Jordan Clarkson, a Filipino-American who traces his roots to Bacolor town in Pampanga. The NBA star from Utah Jazz could only serve Gilas Pilipinas as a naturalized reinforcement for Fiba tournaments as he only secured his Philippine passport after he turned 16, which is past world basketball body’s threshold.
The idea is to have several naturalized players for Gilas so it wouldn’t be forced to settle for talents should a candidate be rendered unavailable due to prior commitments.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has since pegged Brownlee as the man to fill that naturalized Gilas slot this coming February when Gilas Pilipinas hosts Lebanon and Jordan for the sixth and final window of the Fiba World Cup Asian Qualifiers, which the cage leaders are using to prepare for the global showcase slated here in August.
Between February and the World Cup, Gilas Pilipinas is also slated to participate in the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia in May–where Brownlee is also expected to play. Pocket tournaments and training camps in the United States and Europe have also been lined up for the national team.
Other naturalized players
Brownlee will be joining Clarkson and Ange Kouame in Gilas Pilipinas “pool” of naturalized players.
Kouame recently led Ateneo to its reclamation of the men’s basketball title in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) in his final year with in the league. He was granted Filipino citizenship in May 2021 after then President Rodrigo Duterte signed his naturalization into law
The Ivory Coast native has then suited up for several Fiba tournaments–including the World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers–before he suffered a meniscal sprain and a partial ACL tear in June and missed several games.
Kouame, 25, has revealed that he has plans to play overseas. His Ateneo coach, Tab Baldwin, said that the 6-foot-10 big man has offers to strut his wares in Europe and Japan. What remains foremost for Kouame, however, is to have his partially torn knee ligament repaired.
Before Kouame, Gilas had Andray Blatche (naturalized in 2014) and Marcus Douthit (2011). Both, however, are way past their primes now.
With Clarkson likely a shoo-in for the Fiba World Cup squad, Kouame said he is ready to serve the country when needed.
Gilas Pilipinas debut
With the ongoing PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals between Barangay Ginebra and guest team Bay Area dragging into a Game 7, the timeline for Brownlee’s debut with the national team for the February window seems too early.
But the Brownlee plan is somehow a logical one.
In its last campaign, Gilas Pilipinas had to turned to pros to boltser its line up. Some of them are actually Brownlee’s teammates at Ginebra: PBA Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson, two-way forward Jamie Malonzo, and the high-leaping veteran who has played in two World Cups, Japeth Aguilar.
Also eliminating possible adjustment woes with the national team is Gin Kings mentor Tim Cone serving as deputy to national coach Chot Reyes.
If anything, Brownlee will be at the peak of his conditioning when he plays for Gilas in February, thanks to the test in the gruelling best-of-seven championship series against the Dragons.