Dominican Republic ace Karl-Anthony Towns wasn’t surprised at all by his fellow National Basketball Association star Jordan Clarkson’s stellar performance for Gilas Pilipinas during their FIBA World Cup opening day encounter Friday night at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
It was Gilas’ young big man AJ Edu who really caught the attention of the Minnesota Timberwolves standout in the Dominicans’ 87-81 escape over the Filipinos in front of a record-breaking 38,115 crowd.
Towns, who dropped 26 points including 15 from the free throw line and grabbed 10 rebounds, praised the 23-year-old World Cup first-timer for holding his own against the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year.
“He’s a fantastic player, he’s an ultra-competitor. I love the competition he brought tonight, it makes me better,” the 2015 NBA Draft overall top pick said of the 6-foot-10 Gilas player.
“You know, Filipinos are a culture that don’t give up and they play hard, as I expected. The culture is nothing but hard-working people.”
Edu, who was in the starting lineup, threw his body on defense against Towns, who had a terrible 5-of-16 field goal shooting.
“I loved the challenge. Ultimately, I’d love to play in the NBA one day so I gotta do my best against players like that and he’s up there, you know? All-Star player. Number 1 pick. So there’s no better way to measure myself than to guard someone like Karl-Anthony Towns,” Edu said.
The 6-feet-10 Filipino-Cypriot finished with seven points with a perfect 3-of-3 field goal clip and filled up the stats box with five rebounds and two blocked shots in 27 minutes of action.
“It was fun. This is why I play basketball, to play in situations like this, in crowds like this. I mean, he’s an NBA player, he got at me a couple of times but I think I got him also. It was a blessing,” he said.
Clarkson led Gilas’ gallant stand with 28 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
Gilas return to action today in a must-win match against Angola, which bowed to Italy, 67-81, last Friday, at 8 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.