SBP chief Al Panlilio impressed with Boatwright
Published on April 22, 2024

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al S. Panlilio came away impressed from his first meeting with naturalization prospect Bennie Boatwright on Saturday, April 20, at Fairways Grill, Manila Golf and Country Club in Makati.

Along with national coach Tim Cone, Gilas team manager Richard del Rosario and SBP executive director Erika Dy, Panlilio had lunch with Boatwright, who is being eyed for a future tour of duty with Gilas Pilipinas, and had the opportunity to size up the San Miguel Beer import away from the basketball court.

“It was a very pleasant lunch, kwentuhan, me just finding out who he is, how he is; it was very relaxed, he even tried halo-halo,” Panlilio said on Sunday, April 21. “Bennie is very mild-mannered, maamo yung character niya, very respectable.”

Panlilio relayed his initial impressions to SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan and SBP vice president Ricky P. Vargas, telling them in a text message, “It seems we have the right guy.”

The 6-foot-10, 235-lb Boatwright flew in past midnight on Thursday, April 18, from China where he played for the Shanxi Loongs in the Chinese Basketball Association. It is yet unknown how long he will be staying in the country before returning to Los Angeles to get his affairs in order prior to the long, grueling stages of naturalization.

A replacement import for the Beermen, who went on to capture the PBA Commissioner’s Cup recently, Boatwright took the first steps toward becoming a Filipino citizen upon his arrival, walking the same path treaded by the wildly-popular Justin Brownlee.

“I told him [Boatwright] that he’s a bigger, younger version of Brownlee,” said Panlilio. “He’s very excited to be chosen, to be part of the Gilas journey.”

While Brownlee, who was granted Philippine citizenship in January 2023 and who saved the Philippines’ campaign in the Hangzhou Asian Games in October with his breathtaking performance against host China in the semifinals, remains Gilas Pilipinas’ top reinforcement, Boatwright, 27, could step in within the next few years should Cone find the need for a more imposing naturalized player, especially heading to the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers.

Brownlee will banner Gilas in the July 2-7, 2024 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the capital Riga in Latvia, a country on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Estonia, where the winner will earn passage to the Paris Summer Games.

Before turning pro, Boatwright played college ball at University of Southern California. He suited up in 106 NCAA games for the Trojans and averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Though unselected in the 2019 NBA draft, Boatwright shone in the NBA G League and the Libertadores De Queretaro league in Mexico. He then proceeded to make his PBA debut, replacing Ivan Aska and crowning himself and San Miguel as Commissioner’s Cup champions.

What thrilled Boatwright most especially, said Panlilio, was the possibility of being part of the Philippine team that would make it all the way to the 2028 OIympic Games in Los Angeles, a first for the country since 1972 in Munich.

“It’s a dream for him. He has lived in LA for most part of his life, Bennie told us, and his family is still there,” said Panlilio. “He has played in Mexico, and he just come back from China. He’s going back to LA to be with his family who he hasn’t seen in eight months.”

A godson of former PBA import Francois Wise, Boatwright made an unscheduled appearance at the Philsports Arena on Friday, April 19, to watch San Miguel play Converge in the Philippine Cup.

He addressed the prospect of playing for the Philippine team, and how it came about.

“It started with a couple of players, they were mentioning me,” Boatwright said. “After we played Barangay Ginebra, Boss Al (Chua, SMC sports director) asked me if I was interested. And I said ‘for sure.’ Ever since then, the ball has been rolling.”

Boatwright said he found no need to labor over the matter.

“For sure, very easy decision. It was a no-brainer,” he said.

Coming in as a naturalized player in the wake of the fire-and-brimstone trail set by Brownlee, Boatwright said he is looking forward to continuing what his 36-year-old predecessor had achieved.

“It’s a great feeling knowing what he’s accomplished,” said Boatwright. “I’m excited. I will bring my best foot forward and I’m excited to play.

“As the opportunity came and the experience of playing in the Philippines, you can’t say no to that.”

The process of naturalization was explained to Boatwright during that informal meeting, and he expressed his willingness to return as soon as he is required to, especially when he has to appear before the concerned committees in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“We’re working on his calendar,” Panlilio said. “But he is really very excited.”