FORMER NBA prospect Isaiah Austin – who three years ago thought his career was over due to a genetic heart disorder – could provide the solution to Philippines’ naturalised player dilemma.
The 7ft 1in centre was a projected first-round pick in 2014 – but was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, which forced him to stop playing.
He was cleared to return to basketball last year – and Philippines is ready to welcome the big man with open arms.
He will play for Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in China next week in what is being seen as an audition to become Gilas’ next naturalised player.
Intriguingly, Austin could come up against Andray Blatche – Gilas’ naturalised star since 2014 – if Chooks-to-Go progress in China.
Blatche, whose days in a Gilas vest appear to be over, is representing his club team – Xinjiang Flying Tigers – in Chenzhou.
Austin, a Baylor stalwart, was a McDonald’s All-American in 2012 – the same class as future NBA No 1 pick Anthony Bennett and NBA stars such as Gary Harris, Kris Dunn, Kyle Anderson and Marcus Smart.
He was rated so highly before his diagnosis that, during the 2014 NBA draft, commissioner Adam Silver made a ceremonial pick between the 15th and 16th selections, calling Austin onto the stage – with the centre being given a standing ovation.
Always tough leaving the people you love most but I'm very thankful for another opportunity to play this game I love.
God is too good to me!
— Isaiah Austin (@IsaiahAustin) September 11, 2017
He is expected to practice with his new team-mates on Wednesday, ahead of the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, which gets underway on September 22.
National coach Chot Reyes said: “We wanted to take a look at Isaiah Austin, not only his skills and his game, but how he’ll get along with his team-mates.
“We wanted to get a better idea of his attitude, so nothing gives you a glimpse of a player’s attitude more than going into an actual tournament out of the country with that player.
“We want to take a look if he would be a good prospect for a naturalised player for us.”
Reyes, who has made no secret of how difficult it is to find the right naturalised player, had been watching Austin’s game for a long time before inviting him to the Philippines.
“We’ve kept tabs on Isaiah since he was college, because he has the type of skill-set that we’re looking for for the national team,” said Reyes.
“We’re looking for a tall guy who has an outside shot and can be a rim protector, and that’s why Andray Blatche is such a special player for us.
“When we saw Isaiah, we thought that he had perfectly the skill-set…You know that we’ve been looking at JaVale McGee for the longest time. In Isaiah, we have a JaVale McGee with a three-point shot.”
Reyes admitted Austin had been in touch with Gilas officials for two months – but said they wanted to keep it quiet until now for obvious reasons.
The 23-year-old Californian returned to basketball with FMP in Serbia earlier this year, before linking up with Chinese team Guangxi Rhinos in July.
“He played in Serbia, and then now his commitment in China has ended, so it’s the perfect situation for us to bring him over,” said Reyes.
“The day that we connected with him, he sent his passport and birth certificate already to us, so he’s very interested.”