Personalities
Saturday / July 05 / 2014
Wesley Johnson on US' FIFA stint, playing for country, and if the Philippines can become a power in world basketball
rick olivares

NBA player Wesley Johnson is in town for the NBA 3X Philippines

Wesley Johnson had a couple of things on his mind: When would the jetlag set in and the United States Men’s National Team’s World Cup match against Belgium.

Johnson, who played last season with the Los Angeles Lakers and is currently a free agent, is in town for the NBA 3X Philippines, a 3x3 on court-competition for boys and girls to go with authentic NBA entertainment.

“I’m all right,” debunked the cheerful Johnson of any weariness from the long flight and the change in time zone.

In fact, the 6’7” swingman dutifully answered all questions and posed for photographs after the press conference for the event at the NBA Café at SM Aura.

“I’ll get some sleep later. This doesn’t happen every day so let’s go,” he added.

While waiting for the press conference to start, Johnson and Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan and some NBA Asia officials chatted about the USMNT’s loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 of the World Cup.

“Tim Howard….” Johnson’s voice trailed off. “Amazing! And the team too. They were on their heels and yet they never quit. They can get out with their heads up high, man. Makes me very proud to be an American.”

When the World Cup of football winds up in a week’s time, another American team will be competing this time in the FIBA World Cup to defend its title. I asked Johnson if he’d love to play for the US national team one day.

“Definitely,” he answered emphatically. “When you’re young, all you want to do is play. To be invited on the playground and get picked for a side. Then you want to get better and be on the JV. After that, you want to get a scholarship to get to college. About that time, you start thinking also of the NBA and the national team. It’s a dream; every person’s dream to represent your country. That means I got to work harder on my game to get an invite to the tryouts. I’m young and I will have time to develop my game. But that would be something to play in the Olympics or the world championships.”

Wesley Johnson and DeMar DeRozan during Day 2 of the NBA 3X Philippines 2014

With two Lakers teammates who play international ball in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, I wondered if he ever talked to them about playing for the national team.

“Those guys have so much experience and they have won everything,” gushed Johnson. “They don’t mind us asking about things. We don’t always talk about that but I think on a few occasions the Olympics and the Worlds were talked about.”

“Now when Kobe and Pau talk you have to pay attention.”

When asked if he thought that small countries like the Philippines have a shot at becoming a world power in basketball, Johnson was quick to point out that before it was pretty much only the United States, Russia and a few other countries.

“Now you have Argentina, France, Spain, Germany becoming powers in basketball. We only knew them to be playing soccer. And it’s the same with America – who knew the US could compete in the World Cup, right? As long as people work hard and get a lot of support then anything is possible for the Philippines.”

“And it’s good that guys like (Brooklyn Nets center) Andray Blatche is playing for the Philippines. That’s good because you get interest and opportunities.”

With regards to his status with the Lakers or other teams, he’s letting his agent work on the best situation for him. But Johnson confirmed that aside from LA, he’s spoken to the New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies.

In his four years in the NBA, Johnson has suited up for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted fourth overall during the 2010 NBA Draft out of Syracuse, the Phoenix Suns, and the Lakers. The Texas native has averaged 8.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 273 games.

“My goal is now to find a club where I can grow and settle down with. As long as it’s the right situation for me," Johnson said.

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