‘The talent has always been there’ for Jordan Clarkson

Published May 1, 2021, 7:30 AMRenee Ticzon

Yeng Guiao, who coached Jordan Clarkson in the Asian Games, said playing for the Utah Jazz has brought out the best in the Fil-Am player.

Jordan Clarkson is having a stellar year for the Jazz and is the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson played for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2018 Asian Games. PBA players like Stanley Pringle, Christian Standhardinger, Paul Lee, and the core of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, such as Gabe Norwood and Beau Belga, formed the roster. 

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas decided to add Clarkson to the roster since the Asian Games had more lax eligibility rules which would allow him to play. The 6’4" guard got a go-signal from the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team in 2018, to participate in the Asiad, marking the first time that he suited up for the Philippines in an international tournament.

However, transitioning into a new team is never easy even for an elite player like Clarkson. Yeng Guiao, who was Gilas coach at the time, was concerned how he would incorporate the 26-year-old Clarkson who has never played the Philippines’ brand of basketball. Clarkson was also inexperienced when it comes to international play, which can become quite physical.

“I was apprehensive [at the beginning] because I was thinking, how hard will Jordan Clarkson play for the Philippines? I know he has a big contract, I know just by playing for us he’s really putting at risk that big contract that he has if he gets injured or anything,” Guiao told NBA.com Philippines.

“He told me, ‘Coach, I’ll do anything you want me to do. I’ll just go with the flow.’ And he was going to adapt to the system… That’s how coachable he was,” he added.

To the delight of Filipino fans, Clarkson dominated in Gilas’ game against China, providing 28 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. While the team lost, Clarkson’s effort made it a close game, giving a lot of hope for Filipino fans.

“He was really 100% Filipino by the way he fought for us,” Guiao mentioned. “He did everything the team did, he was not trying to make himself special. He just showed he was special by the way he played.”

More than his contribution on the court, Clarkson was able to form a brotherhood bond with other Gilas players. Guiao fondly recalled the time Clarkson disregarded the curfew in the Athlete’s Village. Because he wanted to hang out and get to know his teammates a little more, Clarkson decided to sneak his whole team out, coaches included.

They went to a closed hotel and Clarkson asked the management to open up and accommodate the whole Gilas Pilipinas team. The team had their dinner and a few drinks to celebrate. At the end of the night, Clarkson paid for everything and snuck the team back into the Athlete’s Village past curfew.

“I don’t know how we did it, but we were able to sneak in back to the Athlete’s Village. That was fun, that was fun for us,” recalled Guiao.

Fast forward to 2021, Clarkson is now part of the Utah Jazz, playing the best basketball he’s played in his career.

“The talent has always been there. The basic difference with his situation right now is he’s been able to settle down into that sixth man role. He’s able to play to his strengths,” said Guiao.

Being on a team like the Jazz, Clarkson has been getting a lot of opportunities to score and operate with the ball in his hands.

“The important thing for a player is you get your touches. Because if you don’t get your touches, no matter how good you are, your talent is not going to show,” he said.

Guiao also believes Clarkson’s success can go well beyond the NBA, pointing out that his high IQ and improvement with the Jazz can definitely help the Philippine team down the road if he suits up again, which Clarkson is willing to do.

"(It’s) definitely something I wanna do. Hopefully everything lines up, and I'm free during that time and that moment, I'm able to put that Gilas jersey back on and go win us something," Clarkson said recently in an interview on One Sports' The Game

But even if that doesn’t come to fruition due to restrictions and eligibility issues, Guiao is just happy that he had the unique opportunity of coaching Clarkson.

“That was really one of the highlights of my career... I will not exchange that experience for anything.”