Gilas Pilipinas’ lack of practice time together is not lost on Justin Brownlee, the naturalized Filipino who likely will carry the brunt of the Philippines’ bid to reclaim the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games basketball gold next month in Cambodia.
But ever the optimist, Brownlee is keeping his head up.
“That’s a tough one,” he told the Inquirer when asked about the national team’s struggles with preparation. “But you know, a lot of guys who could be playing for the team have been playing or [were] in-season.”
“So hopefully, everybody is in good shape,” he added.
Knocked off a perch it sat on for 33 long years, the Philippines’ men’s basketball team is looking to prove that last year’s 85-81 loss to Indonesia in the finalé in Hanoi, Vietnam, was nothing but a fluke.
But the optics have not been matching for Gilas as of late. Training camp has been hampered by manpower shortage as many of the names tapped for the herculean task in the Cambodian capital have been fulfilling club duties in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
It also does not help that Gilas’ tormentors are the ones looking like a desperate bunch. Indonesia is reportedly coming back home from a nine-game stretch of friends against pro clubs in Australia, piloting newly naturalized player Anthony Beane, Jr. and now-fit Lester Prosper.
Brownlee is aware of all that, and even did his homework “watching highlights of the loss.” But a big part of his positivity comes from the fact that many in the Gilas 28-man pool have been playing alongside and against each other.
Joining Brownlee in the selection are his teammates at Ginebra: Christian Standhardinger, Stanley Pringle, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, Jamie Malonzo and Jeremiah Gray.
June Mar Fajardo, CJ Perez, Calvin Oftana, Kevin Quiambao, and Mason Amos have also had experience playing alongside Brownlee.
Other names in the vast pool are Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, Schonny Winston, Raymond Almazan, Aaron Black, Chris Newsome and Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, who have been consistent attendees of the camp.
And then there’s Mikey Williams, the PBA’s scoring champion who has battled it out against Brownlee in the recent Governors’ Cup championship series.
With most Gilas recruits healthy, the short prep time together shouldn’t pose much of a problem, according to Brownlee. As things stand, only TNT sharpshooter Roger Pogoy has been ruled out for the showcase in Phnom Penh scheduled to run from May 9 to 16.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Brownlee pointed out. “With everybody in shape and chemistry in place, I think we’ll be OK.”
Gilas is reportedly bracketed with Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar in Group B, meaning the Philippines will have a relatively easy route going into the knockout stage.
But things have gotten tougher for the Philippines in a regional meet that used to be a sure gold. Aside from settling for the silver last time out, Gilas also had a close shave against Thailand, which fell short of stunning the Philippines, 76-73.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. But whatever road we’re going to take, I know everyone’s willing to take it and go all out,” he said.
“I hope that pressure would be on the whole team,” he went on with a nervous chuckle. “But the team’s approach is to just do whatever we can to win that gold back.”
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