Bennie Boatwright Gilas

FILE–San Miguel Beermen import Bennie Boatwright during the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals.–MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines–Versatility, size, and more importantly Bennie Boatwright Jr.’s similarities to the national basketball program’s old reliable Justin Brownlee are what made the San Miguel import a prime candidate to become Gilas Pilipinas’ latest naturalized player.

“He’s got great size and he can play in and out. He’s very versatile and he kind of reminds me of a young Justin—just, like, three or four inches taller,” national coach Tim Cone told reporters on Sunday night.

“I was the one who asked for him. I think he’s a tremendous talent,” he went on.

Boatwright, a stretch big who helped deliver San Miguel’s 29th Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) title in the last Commissioner’s Cup, is being reeled in as a backup for Brownlee, the Asian Games hero who is still expected to serve as the tip of Gilas’ spear for the next four years.

READ: Bennie Boatwright the next naturalized player for Gilas

The 27-year-old Boatwright is also being viewed as an integral piece for when Gilas Pilipinas trains, providing a much-needed presence in practice.

But Cone understands that for all that to happen, Boatwright should earn his Filipino citizenship first. And the seasoned mentor understands that such a process usually takes time.

“[As] far as I know, we have an agreement that he’s already submitting papers to naturalize. This could be a process. It’s usually a long process. It took Justin a long time to get his,” he said.

Justin Brownlee Gilas Pilipinas vs Chinese Taipei Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers

FILE–Gilas Pilipinas’ Justin Brownlee during a game against Chinese Taipei in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.–MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

Brownlee expressed his interest in becoming Filipino as early as 2018. The process only got going in 2022, after the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas sought the national government’s help leading up to the country’s hosting of the 2023 Fiba World Cup.

The beloved PBA import was finally granted citizenship on Jan. 12 through Republic Act 11937, formally putting him alongside former Ateneo star Ange Kouame and Utah Jazz ace Jordan Clarkson in the Gilas pool of active naturalized players.

READ: Justin Brownlee headed to Indonesia to play as an import

“We have to get him into practice and get him into the system and everything else. But that’s a long way away. That’s not gonna happen tomorrow. That’s not gonna happen next month. That’s not gonna happen in June or July,” Cone said of Boatwright Jr., who is currently plying his trade in China for the Shanxi Loongs.

“When we go to Latvia it’s gonna be Justin being the guy. But if we can get him (Bennie) into practice and get him involved in the system, if something does–God forbid–happen to someone, he can be ready to step in. That’s the plan.”

In an earlier exclusive interview with the Inquirer, Cone said that he is open to considering other players to reinforce Gilas. This as he acknowledged that Brownlee is about to the latter part of his 30s.

Boatwright’s fast-tracked bid to officially reinforce Gilas will be at the mercy of the country’s lawmakers, as the first step would be authoring a bill that seeks to grant the former Filipino citizenship. Such a bill would then need to go through at least three readings in the House and the Senate before the President can turn it into a law.

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“We don’t know when he’s gonna be available, or when we can do [all] that. It’s not gonna happen until he gets his naturalized papers in. And that’s still a long process,” Cone said.


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