Brownlee dons Gilas Pilipinas uniform as PH faces Lebanon
Justin Brownlee will debut as a Filipino national team mainstay on Friday when Gilas Pilipinas battles Lebanon in an Asian Qualifier showdown between two countries that have already booked tickets to the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup.
Both teams will be fielding less-than-ideal rosters with key players either left off the final lineup intentionally or, in the case of the Philippines, sidelined by injuries.
The Cedars flew in a bevy of young players who will try to fill in for standouts Wael Arakji and Ali Haidar, but Nationals coach Chot Reyes is harboring no misplaced confidence that the 6 p.m. duel at Philippine Arena will be a walk in the park.
“Lebanon beat [Group E pacesetter] New Zealand even without [Wael] Arakji, [Amir] Saoud, and [Sergio] El Darwich, and the latter two are going to play here, so we have no illusions that this game will be easy at all,” Reyes told the Inquirer on the eve of the match.
The Philippines lost to Lebanon the first time both teams clashed in the qualifiers, with the Cedars holding off Jordan Clarkson and co., 85-81, in Beirut.
Neck-deep with Jazz
Clarkson is neck-deep in NBA chores for the Utah Jazz, giving Brownlee his chance to shine in the naturalized player’s slot as he leads a mix of young guys and old-hands in the squad.
“Our focus remains the same: See how the new guys will integrate with rest [and] give us the best possible chance for a ‘W,’” Reyes said.
Joining Brownlee in the list transmitted to the Fiba by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, which the Inquirer obtained, are the only two players to have won the Philippine Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player trophy since 2014: June Mar Fajardo and Scottie Thompson.
Reprising their roles are six players who played alongside Clarkson in that loss against Lebanon: Dwight Ramos, Jamie Malonzo, Calvin Oftana, Ray Parks Jr., and brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena.
Also seeing action for the Nationals are CJ Perez, a 2019 World Cup veteran like Thompson and Fajardo; and Jordan Heading, the Filipino-Aussie gunner who is playing his first game back following a contract row with the national federation.
Rounding out the cast is Mason Amos, an 18-year-old bruiser who is set to play for Ateneo and help Fajardo in the middle following Kai Sotto’s opt-out and Japeth Aguilar’s injury.
The Philippines has qualified for the World Cup by virtue of being a tournament cohost.
Reyes and the national program, however, are using the qualifying windows to figure out which 12 players will represent the country in the global meet.
Also scheduled for Friday is the unveiling of three-time Olympic gold medalist Carmelo Anthony as the World Cup’s latest global ambassador.
Anthony joins Argentine star Luis Scola and Spanish icon Pau Gasol as poster boys of the event that will be cohosted by Japan and Indonesia.