Jazz teammates Clarkson, Fontecchio exchange praises after Fiba World Cup duel
MANILA, Philippines — Utah Jazz teammates Jordan Clarkson and Simone Fontecchio shared mutual respect after Italy earned a crucial 90-83 victory to advance to the next round and eliminate Gilas Pilipinas in the Fiba World Cup 2023 on Tuesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Jazz pair hugged each other out before the start of the game and after the final whistle following their matchup on the world stage in front of close to 12,000 fans at Araneta Coliseum.
Clarkson, the Filipino-American guard, scored 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and had seven rebounds and six assists while Fontecchio posted 18 points and six rebounds as the Azzurri joined Group A leader and unbeaten Dominican Republic in the second round.
Clarkson heaped praise on Fontecchio, who has yet to really get into his groove offensively since the tournament began.
“Simone is a really good player. He’s been super cool, getting to meet him and stuff last year and playing on the same team and knowing what he does. He can shoot the ball really well, he’s strong, he’s big. I’m happy to see him succeeding in these games and having strong performances,” Clarkson said. “Italy is lucky to have Simone. Such a great dude and a great competitor.”
Coming off a EuroLeague stint with Spanish club Saski Baskonia, Fontecchio signed a two-year contract with the Jazz last season where he appeared in 52 games and averaged 6.3 points and 1.7 rebounds in nearly 15 minutes per game.
The 6-foot-7 forward also expressed his respect to Clarkson, the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, saying the Philippines is lucky to have him as its naturalized player.
“Yeah, it was great, it was great. He’s a hell of a player, played his heart out the whole game. The whole three games I saw him, he was unbelievable. You guys are really lucky to have him,” said Fontecchio of Clarkson, who averaged 24.0 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds in the group phase.
The 27-year-old Fontecchio, who is averaging 16.7 points through three games but is shooting just 20 percent from long range, also lauded the effort of the Filipinos, who didn’t give up until the final buzzer.
“It’s a tough team, a tough game. We had our best and we got the win. That’s the most important thing. We played the right way, we played continuously the right way the whole game, except maybe the last three minutes where they played really well,” Fontecchio said. “They didn’t give up. We got to be focused all 40 minutes because now we have some breaks and it’s not easy after.”
Clarkson and Fontecchio are not the only Jazz players as last season’s breakout star Lauri Markkanen plays for Finland, which ended up winless in three games in Group E in Okinawa. Walker Kessler of Team USA and Kelly Olynyk of Canada are also in the World Cup. The US is currently leading Group C while Canada is on top of Group H.
“Hopefully, when all of us get together in Utah. Me, Lauri, and everybody playing, we can string together a strong season,” said Clarkson.