No one is indispensable at Gilas like in any other team
WITH FOUR-YEAR PLAN

Like in any other basketball team, no one is indispensable at Gilas

/ 05:09 AM March 27, 2024

Gilas Pilipinas coach Tim Cone

Gilas coach Tim Cone: We’ll have to see how things go at that point. —MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

Justin Brownlee has begun a stint in Indonesia to, first of all, continue making a living. But more than that, the Gilas Pilipinas naturalized ace can stay active and in game shape while not playing in Fiba events and in the PBA’s import-laden competitions for Barangay Ginebra.

The Asian Games (Asiad) hero turns 36 in less than a month, entering what he himself candidly referred to in an earlier exclusive Inquirer interview as the “Twilight Zone” of his peak athletic performance.

If that is true, Brownlee’s abilities will be tapering off just when the four-year plan of Gilas Pilipinas nears its end as he will be 40 by the time the next World Cup and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles come around. National coach Tim Cone, who will call the shots for the national basketball program throughout that period, is aware of this reality. But the seasoned mentor prefers taking it one hurdle at a time.

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“We understand that, and you know, I think we just have to play that by ear,” he told the Inquirer.

“Chris Newsome’s 33, and he’ll be 37 [by the World Cup]. Those are things that are going to happen along the way: Our veterans will get older. June Mar (Fajardo) is going to be 38, too, and we’ll have to see how things go at that point,” he went on.

Even after a monthslong, self-imposed ban after flunking a doping test in the Hangzhou Asiad, Brownlee has proven he hasn’t lost a step, averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals when he returned to active duty and helped Gilas to two Fiba window wins last month.

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READ: Tim Cone starts training for Gilas next phase starting at 43-point lead

But those numbers came against two nations hardly viewed as threats to the Philippine Five.

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Brownlee will again lead Gilas in July when they battle host and world No. 6 Latvia in Riga, and then 23rd-ranked Georgia in the final qualification pathway for the Summer Olympic Games in Paris, France.

Until then, Cone prefers not jumping the gun.

“I don’t think we have to make decisions about that right now. You just don’t know what happens in the future,” he said.“That’s the way a basketball team is, right? Players get old, you have to replace him, players get hurt, you’ll have to figure out a way to make up with him, next man up. That’s what we are, a basketball team, and we are treating this team like any other basketball team like the Ginebra team or San Miguel team or TNT.”

Naturalized players

Justin Brownlee Gilas Pilipinas vs Chinese Taipei Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers

Gilas Pilipinas’ Justin Brownlee during a game against Chinese Taipei in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.–MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

As things stand, Gilas has Ange Kouame and Jordan Clarkson as top-of-mind replacements in the event that Gilas misses Brownlee.

Between the Ivorian big man and the Utah Jazz guard, the former is younger and much more readily available. The former Ateneo star also served Cone in that golden romp in China in October of last year, which should make him a more feasible choice over the National Basketball Association star.

Reeling in another foreigner to fill the special player slot would also mean that he will be subject to the naturalized process, which usually takes time. Those are only few of many other possible scenarios that Cone is not shying away from.

“Maybe there’s a 7-foot guy that comes over from the States and wows everybody and we put him on the national team, able to replace June Mar (Fajardo); or an import comes in, really wows us and you know, maybe he comes in and replaces Justin. Someone can get a bad injury, knock on wood. Those are all possibilities,” he said

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.“This is a team and there’s gonna be ups and downs with it and after the end of the year, we’ll have to reassess it and see what happens,” he said. “The idea is each year-end we assess just like you do with any Ginebra team, San Miguel team. After every conference we reassess. You keep track, and maybe see some players not pulling their weight. That’s what we [usually] do, and things won’t be any different,” he said.

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