Scrounging for a team in a summer league, Brownlee finds a home instead
Two years ago, Justin Brownlee was brought in by Barangay Ginebra originally as a temporary replacement for first-choice import Paul Harris.
The Gin Kings needed Brownlee to fill in after Harris suffered a gruesome hand injury just before the 2016 PBA Governors’ Cup began.
“I was in a panic. I had to call around, I was able to get a hold of (agent) Sheryl (Reyes) and she was in the NBA Summer League in Vegas at the time,” coach Tim Cone said. “She gave me a list of names and at the end of the list of names was Justin Brownlee.”
Cone had seen Brownlee play before and knew his game fits the PBA like a glove.
“He was the guy that I’ve always wanted because I had scouted him in previous Summer Leagues and in the D-League and I’ve always thought he’s going to be perfect for this league,” he said.
“She said he (Brownlee) could make it and he’d get on the plane next day and he got on the plane next day and lo and behold.”
Cone had faith in Brownlee even before the forward could put on the kind of scoring display that he is now known for.
“I remember he missed his first eight. He was 0-for-8 in that first game. I remember that distinctly because when I was telling everybody about Justin, I was telling them, ‘He’s a lights out shooter.’ I kept telling everybody that,” said Cone, who won his third title since transferring to Ginebra—all with Brownlee as his import.
“But as the conference progressed, we knew we had something special and mostly it’s not just special on the floor,” he added. “What makes an import truly special is the combination of what he is on and off the floor.”
The PBA has a long list of great imports who have come and gone but there are only a few who left a lasting legacy.
Cone believes Brownlee, widely-regarded as one of the best imports in Ginebra history, belongs in that elite company.
“The guys that can do both are really the special ones. I said that about Norman Black, Bobby Parks, Sean Chambers absolutely and I think Justin Brownlee is another one,” he said.
“He’s just great on both sides and it’s hard to find that. It’s really harder than you think to find greatness on and off the court.”
Looking back, Brownlee still can’t wrap his head around the kind of journey he’s had considering how it started.
“You mean back in 2016? Yeah, I didn’t expect, I definitely didn’t expect this. I was just hoping I could come and help out the team, you know with Paul, he was injured,” the 30-year-old Brownlee, who was named Best Import in the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup, said.
“I think he had a timetable, a few weeks to a month or whatever it was. I was just coming in to just do whatever I can to help the team win, and I was gonna be the replacement.”
Not too long ago, Brownlee was in the Summer League hoping to crack a roster spot.
“He wasn’t playing in the Summer League. He was walking around in Las Vegas at that time hoping to make a Summer League team and he didn’t make it,” Cone said.
He found a home instead.