What Bennie Boatwright’s Potential Naturalization Means for Gilas Pilipinas

The former SMB import looms as the latest foreign reinforcement for Gilas, adding to a pool that includes Justin Brownlee and Jordan Clarkson.

The naturalized player pool of Gilas Pilipinas is expected to receive a major boost in the coming months after the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) officially announced on Monday that it had begun discussions with former San Miguel Beermen import Bennie Boatwright, Jr.

Boatwright averaged 30.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in 13 games for the Beermen in the recent Commissioner’s Cup, leading the SMB franchise to the title in six games over the Magnolia Hotshots.

“The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas would like to announce that it has initiated talks with Bennie Boatwright regarding a possible stint with the Gilas Pilipinas Men’s Team as a naturalized player in future FIBA competitions,” the SBP’s statement read.

“Boatwright played for the San Miguel Beermen in the recent PBA Commissioner’s Cup where he demonstrated he was a good fit for Philippine basketball as he led his ball club to the championship with his overall leadership and talent.”

The SBP added that Boatwright is currently playing professionally in China but is willing to suit up for Gilas at a moment’s notice once he is naturalized.

What this means for Gilas

Currently, the pool of Gilas naturalized players is composed of Justin Brownlee, Jordan Clarkson, Ange Kouame and a handful of Fil-foreign PBA players who are ineligible to play as a local in FIBA competitions such as Mo Tautuaa, Stanley Pringle and Christian Standhardinger. Bennie Boatwright’s addition is part of the SBP’s new thrust to build up this pool. After all, other Asian countries like Japan and Lebanon have multiple naturalized players available to them for any FIBA tournament.

“It is SBP’s philosophy to maintain a pool of naturalized players to provide the Philippine National Team with options for specific tournaments. The presence of a pool also ensures availability of naturalized players in case of injuries, scheduling issues, and other unforeseen incidents.”

While the SBP made it clear that Brownlee is still the first choice of Tim Cone for the naturalized player slot, adding someone like Boatwright makes sense on several fronts.

First, there’s the age factor. As brilliant as Brownlee was in the recent FIBA Asia Cup window and in last year’s Asian Games, he’s also turning 36 this year. Clarkson is turning 32, and is not as readily available as Brownlee owing to his NBA commitments.

As the SBP noted: “Boatwright is currently 27 years of age, making him a solid choice for naturalization as the SBP seeks to secure the future of the national team alongside working on its current goals.”

There’s also the matter of height. Brownlee is a shade below 6’6, around the same height as Clarkson. Kouame is 6’11 and the only player in the pool who is a natural center. At 6’9, Boatwright would give Gilas a new look down low and could potentially form a fearsome frontline with Kai Sotto, June Mar Fajardo, AJ Edu and Carl Tamayo. In the Asian Games, he can even team up with Kouame.

Finally, Boatwright fits the international game with his steady hand from the outside (35.1% 3-point shooting for SMB), ability to score from anywhere, and speed to get up and down the court quickly.

But first things first. The SBP and Boatwright must first come to terms, after which someone must initiate the potentially long naturalization process in Congress. There is virtually no chance he will be able to represent Gilas at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July. Realistically, he might not get onboard until early next year, which is fine since the Gilas calendar isn’t too heavy this year.

Banner image from PBA Media Bureau.

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