Tim Cone’s role in Gilas’ Asian Games gold triumph more than just a coincidence
Tim Cone sounded so grounded when he said that the Philippines winning the Asian Games gold was just a matter of time—and that he was lucky enough to be at the helm of the national team when the right moment caught up with the country. “
We’re just too good of a basketball nation not to win this thing,” said Cone. “It had to be somebody at some time.”
The time came Friday night, with a 70-60 victory over debuting finalist Jordan—unbeaten going into the gold medal match—ending a 61-year wait for the country to reclaim the Asian basketball throne here in Hangzhou, China.
Cone was hired to coach the squad as a stop-game measure while the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), reeling from a failed Fiba World Cup bid, was trying to figure out how to proceed with the national basketball program.
“The whole vision of why I was part of this one was just to give them (SBP) time to settle in and decide what they want to do going forward,’’ said Cone after delivering Team Philippines’ fourth gold medal in the Games.
“So that’s really the thing right now, where SBP is going to go from here,’’ he added. “If you remember in 2019, I took over as interim [coach] and that gave [the SBP] an opportunity to decide which way they want to go. So this was the job and I completed the job so we’ll see where we’ll go from here.’’
The natural progression of things would have the SBP offering Cone the task of rebuilding the program. But until that happens, the decorated coach doesn’t feel it’s time to address speculations—not even about defending the crown in Japan in 2026.
“Right now, I’ll be honest with you. I’m not thinking that far forward. I was thinking about going back to Ginebra, that’s my baby and I’m still trying to live up to Sonny’s (Jaworski) legacy all the time,’’ he added.
The last time the Philippines won an Asiad gold before Friday night was in 1962 in Jakarta.
Four straight titles
Cone was 4 years old then and the country had made it four straight titles in men’s basketball in the continental Olympics starting from the 1951 edition in New Delhi, India. “We won it for four straight Asian Games, and who knows this might be our streak right now or stretch of winning more along the way,’’ he added.
But that’s for the future. Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, Cone’s thoughts were grounded on the present, on the minor problems that popped out in the middle of the team’s celebration.
“They wouldn’t even allow us to go to the podium to take a picture, but those are their rules. But we got our pictures on the sidelines with the guys so that was nice,’’ said Cone.
Gold medals aren’t handed out for coaches and their staff as well, so Chris Newsome, who starred in defense by making it hard for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to operate, put his gold medal around Cone’s neck. Center June Mar Fajardo lent his to team manager Alfrancis Chua.
“So we held our gold medals for a few moments, which was good enough. This is a players’ game and the players deserved it,’’ said Cone.
The problems were exponentially bigger before the tournament, when the national team that represented the country in the World Cup was gutted by players departing to fulfill their contractual obligations to club teams abroad.
That meant national team brain trust had to overhaul the team and build around World Cup holdovers Fajardo, Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar and CJ Perez. Justin Brownlee was a shoo-in to replace NBA star and naturalized Filipino Jordan Clarkson while pool members last cut from the World Cup squad, Calvin Oftana and Newsome, were included in the team.
Cone then added Ange Kouame, who like Brownlee, Oftana and Newsome had already been practicing with the national pool, easing the chemistry problems of the Asiad squad.
While the SBP is being run by the MVP group with chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan and its president Al Panlilio calling the shots, this team was formed with the help of San Miguel Corporation through its big boss Ramon S. Ang.
San Miguel Beer veterans Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter, who both saw action for the gold-winning Philippine team in the 2023 Southeast Asian Games, were capped anew, along with Kevin Alas and Arvin Tolentino.
Cone, with assistants Jong Uichico, Richard del Rosario, Josh Reyes and LA Tenorio, ironed out problems on the fly and even with less-than-ideal preparations, had no qualms in pointing out the team’s target: The Asian Games gold medal.
He didn’t waver even after a group-phase beating at the hands of Jordan forced the Philippines into a slippery detour. But the national squad never lost foothold and Cone is an Asian Games champion, finally, after settling for bronze in 1998, when he handled a well-prepared Centennial Team that kicked off the dream of reclaiming the Philippines’ old spot on top of the continent.
“I was so devastated in 1998 when we didn’t win. I was a young coach, I put a lot of pressure on my shoulders and stuff,’’ said Cone, savoring the sweetness of redemption.
“I think our nation deserves this. I say that knowing that I’m an American, but this is still my nation,” he said, before correcting himself over the forgivable error that fans would be glad he made: “I’m sorry, I may not sound right … this is our nation.’’
As much as Cone is noncommittal to his future with the national program, it doesn’t seem like there will be a 33-year wait for him to coach the team in the Asian Games.
“I’m always gonna be ready to help in any way I can,’’ said the PBA’s winningest coach with 25 titles and two Grand Slam feats, who served as assistant to Chot Reyes during the World Cup.
The SBP should hold him to that. As much as he believes that the Asiad gold was a moment that caught up with the country, Cone had a huge hand in making sure the Philippines would not let that moment go.