Gilas teen prospect turns pro, joins fledgling league

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Francis Lopez is one of the emerging talents of the Gilas Pilipinas pool. —PHOTO COURTESY OF FIBA

Filipino teen prospect Francis “LeBron” Lopez has turned professional after joining new pro league Overtime Elite (OTE).

The move surprised the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), which nevertheless hopes that the cager’s decision would open an opportunity to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

“[W]e are hoping that his pathway [to the NBA] will be successful,” said Ryan Gregorio, the special assistant to SBP president Al Panlilio, who added that he hopes Lopez will remain committed to the national program.“[W]e are hoping that when his country calls him, he will be available,” Gregorio said.

OTE announced Lopez’s signing on its website on Tuesday.“We’re delighted to have LeBron join the OTE family as we expand our international reach, bringing in top talent from across the globe,” said Brandon Williams, OTE executive vice president and head of basketball operations.

The 18-year-old Lopez impressed in his Gilas Pilipinas debut in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup qualifiers last month. He collected eight points, five rebounds and one assist, a block and a steal in less than 10 minutes of action in the Philippines’ 76-51 blowout of Indonesia.

“But I thought the most impressive thing about Lebron [against Indonesia] was I could see that there was excitement there, but he really made an effort to be composed and to play composed, and to do the little things right at both ends of the floor,” Philippines head coach Tab Baldwin said after the game against Indonesia. “And that’s a great sign for a young player because we all know that Lebron can be a highlight film if he just goes out there and runs around wild and does crazy stuff.” OTE head coach and former NBA standout Kevin Ollie sees a bright future ahead of the 6-foot-5 Ateneo High School standout.

“Francis is a high-flyer with his ability to play above the rim,” said Ollie, who also serves as head of player development.

“We’re building a program for him that will develop his game more completely, so that he can achieve his dream of a professional career and as a leader on the Philippines national team for years to come.”

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