Four years after golden romp, Gilas understands ‘urgency’
The last time Tim Cone took part in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, the Philippines wasn’t just invincible. It played the role of magnanimous host, too.
“In fact [I had] to hold off. There were a couple of teams where I had to stop guys from taking fastbreaks anymore,” he told the Inquirer, referring to the Gilas Pilipinas’ golden homestand back in 2019.
“I told them to [play] Zone [defense] because we could’ve beaten [opponents] by 120, 130 points and I did not want—as the host country—to be that kind of host.”
“We wanted to show respect so we held the scores down. I think Indonesia tested us a little bit … but aside from that, nobody. Thailand didn’t touch us, Vietnam didn’t touch us. We blew everybody out.”
What a distant memory that seems now. The country lost its 33-year grip on the basketball crown in the biennial meet three years later and is playing for redemption this year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“The difference now is there’s a real sense of urgency going on because we know how good our opponents are going to be,” Cone, now a valuable assistant coach for the national team, said. “They are going to be much, much better than anything we’ve seen so far, especially with the new rules where you could bring multiple naturalized players.”
This edition of the SEA Games only requires players to have a passport of the country they wish to represent.
“Other teams are basically playing with three imports and we’re going to see that. And that’s going to make them so much stronger. So there is kind of a sense of urgency that we got to be good. We can’t relax our way to [the gold]. In 2019, we worked hard, but we knew we’re going to be good and not have too many problems,” Cone said.
“There’s a real sense that if we aren’t good, we’re gonna get beat. And this team doesn’t want to be it, the coaching staff doesn’t want to be embarrassed,” he added.
Things looked bleak for the national program, which is grappling with player withdrawals and injuries. Against a field that will likely be reinforced with international veterans, Gilas will be needing all the help it could in its bid for redemption.
Japeth Aguilar is the latest member of the 28-man pool to be shelved in a bid to preserve him for the World Cup here in August. The transformative Scottie Thompson, meanwhile, remains a “question mark” for the squad as he and his wife are expecting their firstborn child, according to national coach Chot Reyes.
But Cone has been through adversities over and over again throughout his fabulous coaching career to know a thing or two about hope and redemption.
“If the guys from Japan were here, if Kai (Sotto) was here, if the other core guys were?” he wondered with a sigh “Japeth, Roger (Pogoy), June Mar (Fajardo)? We’d really like to have those guys back with us.”
“In the meantime, we’re looking. We’re searching,” he said. “I’m very impressed with Brandon (Ganuelas-Rosser). The Phillips brothers are playing with tremendous energy even if they’re really young. And it’s great to see Chris (Ross) and Marcio (Lassiter) back at it.”
Gilas is scheduled to set up camp at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, starting Sunday and hold two-a-day practices before determining who among those mentioned earlier, along with Christian Standhardinger, CJ Perez, Calvin Oftana, Aaron Black, Chris Newsome , Jeremiah Gray, and Jerom Lastimosa would make the final cut.
None of those players were part of the ill-fated squad that fell to Indonesia in Hanoi, Vietnam, last year. But Cone expects whoever makes the squad would be just as eager to scrub out that blemish in Gilas’ history.
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