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Friday / June 27 / 2014
The Filipino Jordan
julius manicad

AP Photo

Minutes after being tapped as the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards, Jordan Clarkson's phone sprung to life.

It was Mitch Kupchak, the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Are you in shape?" Kupchak asked Clarkson, the 6-foot-5 Filipino-American combo guard from Missouri. "Okay, good."

Then, he hung up.

Minutes later, it was announced that Clarkson will be moving to Los Angeles after the Lakers agreed to pay $1.8 million to the Wizards, formally making him the first player with Filipino lineage who got drafted in the NBA after Raymond Townsend in 1978 and Ricardo Brown in 1979.

"It's a blessing. I feel like I'm in the right situation," said the 22-year old Clarkson, whose mother -- Anette -- is a pure Filipino.

"I'm a part-Filipino and I'm looking to be the first or one of the Filipino-Americans to play in the NBA. I know the country is backing me up. I hope I will be able to visit them in the future."

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It was a defining moment for the Clarkson family.

But more than anything else, it was a more defining moment for the basketball-mad Filipinos, who are looking for a hero who will make them forget the calamities, crimes and political controversies that have been gripping their country. And now, with Clarkson as a Laker, there will be an athlete not named Manny Pacquiao or Nonito Donaire who will carry the fight for them in the international sports arena.

Like any Filipino sports hero, Clarkson's journey had never been easy.

It was fueled by hunger, desire and love for his family.

After cutting his basketball teeth in the empty gyms in San Antonio, Texas, Clarkson enrolled at the University of Tulsa where he averaged a team-high 16.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in his sophomore season.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Clarkson, who came from a tight-knit family, suffered homesickness and faced uncertainties, especially when his chief recruiter in coach Doug Wojcik, athletic director Bubba Cunningham and assistant coach David Cason left the squad and was replaced by former NBA star Danny Manning.

"When Jordan addressed coach Manning and told him what his reasoning was, of course they expressed disappointment," said his father, Mike Clarkson. "Coach Manning is a first-year head coach and losing your best player is going to have an impact on the program. However, I think what they're doing right now is going to have a greater impact on the program. This is going to leave a mark, an indelible mark."

"I think in this case the system had failed us."

After getting interesting offer from powerful programs like Duke, UCLA, Illinois and Arizona, Clarkson decided to enroll at Missouri due to its exciting uptempo brand of basketball. Also, fellow Texas native and close friend, Phil Pressey of the Boston Celtics, raved about his experience playing under Missouri coach Frank Haith and urged him to consider joining him.

"Jordan had a lot of talks with Phil about Missouri's style of play," the elder Clarkson said. "Jordan is more effective in the open court when you're running. He can play any style of basketball, but that's more conducive to what he likes to do, getting up and down and using his speed and agility. I think he looked at that really closely and that swayed him to pick Missouri."

Photo: In this 2013 file photo, Missouri's Jordan Clarkson is congratulated by fans after his team upset No. 18 UCLA 80-71 in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. Clarkson, a Filipino-American, has been drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft on Friday, June 27, 2014. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

At Missouri, Clarkson blossomed into a real star.

Using his ample length, athleticism and skills to his advantage, Clarkson was converted into a playmaker and averaged 17.5 points and 3.4 assists while shooting 44.7 percent clip from the field for the Tigers, who made a deep run in the US NCAA Division I.

He wasnamed Second Team All-SEC by the coaches in his lone season with the Tigers and started to break into the scouts' radar when he scored more than 20 points in six consecutive games, including a 31-point eruption against Southern Illinois.

He also ranked among NCAA leaders in both free throws made (72nd) and percentage (101st), as well as field goals (51st) in 2013-14.

Then, the glittery lights of the NBA came calling.

Complete Draft results: 2014 NBA Draft Board

"It's been a challenging few months for Jordan and his family, but I am so proud of the way he has handled adversity and has really grown, not just as a basketball player, but as a young man," Tigers coach Frank Haith said in a statement.

Haith was referring to the devastating news that Clarkson's father was diagnosed with cancer this past season. And the team endured even more struggles as that news came a little more than a month after his teammate, Jabari Brown, found out that his dad was also stricken with the disease.

Before he announced his jump to the pros, he had written a letter to Missouri fans, explaning his "heavy" decision.

"With that being said, I wanted to write this letter to our fans to let you know personally that I have decided to forgo my senior year at Missouri and enter the 2014 NBA draft. It wasn't an easy decision. I have so much respect for everyone here and the impact you have made on my life has been immense," he said.

Clarkson was drafted by the Wizards with the 46th overall pick in the second round before being shipped to the Lakers for cash consideration.

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Clarkson wasn't the player they were looking for. In fact, they are already stacked in the one-guard position with John Wall, Bradley Beal and veteran Andre Miller getting the lion's share of minutes.

“We focused in on two, three players who we thought would be there but were gone by the time it was our turn to pick, and we didn’t want to waste it and just bring someone in that we didn’t think would fit in with what we were trying to do,” Grunfeld said.

With the Lakers, Clarkson is expected to be given a room to shine under the mentorship of a new coach. He will assume backcourt chores with the game's best player in Kobe Bryant and expected to be given minutes especially with Steve Nash on the verge of retirement and Jordan Farmar testing the waters of free agency.

His strenght is his athleticism and size, giving him an edge over the Lakers' incumbent playmaker Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore. And it's something which Kupchak loves to see in a point guard.

"Are you in shape?" Kupchak's first question reverberates through Clarkson's head. "Okay, good."

It was the start of his NBA journey.

The Filipino Jordan had arrived.

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