Cone: Gilas Pilipinas’ preparations reset after blowing 43-point lead

Gilas Justin Brownlee

Justin Brownlee leads Gilas Pilipinas anew in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers. –MARLO CUETO/

Up by 43 with about seven minutes left in the ball game, naturalized ace Justin Brownlee checked in for Gilas Pilipinas on Sunday night against Chinese Taipei.

The rest of the starters—Kai Sotto, Dwight Ramos, Calvin Oftana and Scottie Thompson—followed shortly even with the game already beyond doubt.

The intention was not to rub the blowout win in the visitors’ faces, but rather make up for the very few times that the new-look Gilas Pilipinas will be playing together heading into its big test this July.

“We weren’t trying to run up the score by bringing in the first group. It was an opportunity for us to get that first group to go out and play together,” national coach Tim Cone said on the heels of a 106-53 rout at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.

“Every opportunity for us is going to be precious because we have limited opportunities. We have to do it that way. [We are] not like other teams,” he added.

Gilas swept the opening window of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup Qualifiers, pocketing two big wins over Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei that many thought the squad would easily take.

But those are the only games the Nationals would be playing before they take on fearsome European teams in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Riga, Latvia, this July.

“You always wish you had more time to prepare,” Cone said with a sigh. “I wish we could keep this thing going but that’s out of our control so we’ll live with what we have and that’s our challenge. That’s part of our big challenge.”

Four-month gap

The gap between Gilas’ latest win and its next assignment, which dangles one last pathway into the Summer Olympic Games in Paris, France, is a little over four months. A lot could happen within that period, from injuries to career movements.

Brownlee will be ineligible to play in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA)—at least for now—as the league will be holding the Philippine Cup, a tournament exclusive only for locals. The PBA standouts won’t be available as well, as they will be fulfilling club duties just like Sotto, Ramos and AJ Edu with their respective teams in the Japanese B. League.

“We were just talking in the locker room about how this kind of feels like an ending. We won’t play until another three or four months. And so it kind of feels like an ending for us. We wish we had one more game to play next week or in a couple of days but that’s not something we control,” Cone said.

“But I don’t think there’s one guy in our team not looking forward to [July] and getting back together and getting this thing going again.”

But it’s not like Cone and his brain trust plan to just let the days go by before the team plunges into the OQT, where World No. 8 Latvia and higher-ranked Georgia await.

“The agreement is that we got 10 days before we actually play our first game against Latvia. So that might be 10 days here, Inspire camp every day or maybe it’s going out and trying to find some friendlies against European teams so we can get a feel for the way they play. we haven’t all figured that out yet but we are in the midst of figuring it out,” he said.


“We’ve got some invitations from Lithuania, from Slovenia and the Czech Republic. We’re gonna work our way through those and see what we can do. But the window for us to do is only 10 days [to train].”

Cone also knows that the program must build on the gains the team has made this week.

“This 2-0 start is great, but that’s a little baby step on the way. We need to make a lot more bigger strides as we go as the next game we play is Latvia, which is Top 8 (in the world). And they just beat Spain a couple of days ago. So we got them and Georgia coming up. So can we get to that level?” he said.

“This is a good start, but the goal is bigger than the role,” said Sotto, who starred alongside Brownlee once again in the triumph on Sunday night. “These are baby steps—nevertheless big—as this is the beginning.”

“We have more time to improve and gel together. We’re only going to get better. Hopefully, when the [OQT comes] we’re way better and ready,” he added.

Meanwhile, Jamie Malonzo was conspicuously absent in the shellacking of Chinese Taipei. Cone said that his ward was out due to a medical condition, adding that he had caught a virus.

“Jamie, we contemplated bringing him to the hospital, he’s that down and out. Hopefully, he’ll bounce back and get better. We sent our doctors to him and put him on [intravenous therapy],” he said.

“I think maybe some of the guys just got severely dehydrated on the trip and we didn’t hydrate well enough. I’ve got to be more cognizant of that and make sure that guys are doing that better. Kind of like a travel fatigue. That’s really on us to make sure that doesn’t happen. Viruses are all over the place so you never know when someone’s going to pick something up.”

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However, some contested Cone’s explanation across several Inquirer platforms, showing a clip of an individual that resembled Malonzo figuring in a fistfight inside a restaurant. INQ