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CONE TO THE RESCUE: Veteran mentor makes Asian Games return

Tim Cone has been appointed as head coach of Gilas Pilipinas in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou. Photo by Joey Sanchez Mendoza

With the Gilas Pilipinas program in disarray, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas dialed the number of the same mentor who led the national squad to its last Asian Games medal.

Tim Cone, the most successful head coach in Philippine Basketball Association history with 25 titles, is back in the saddle after being appointed as head coach of Gilas Pilipinas in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou from 23 September to 8 October.

Cone will be joined by Ginebra assistant coach Richard del Rosario, Gilas assistant coach Jong Uichico, Gilas Youth head coach Josh Reyes and Ginebra guard LA Tenorio with San Miguel Corporation sports director Alfrancis Chua as team manager and PBA commissioner Willie Marcial as deputy team manager.

Cone said he has to buckle down to work as soon as possible and finalize the composition of the team with barely two weeks before the men’s basketball event of the Asian Games tips off.

Japan-based players like Kiefer Ravena, Kai Sotto, Dwight Ramos, AJ Edu and Ray Parks will be out as well as Korean League star Rhenz Abando.

With that, Cone will have to bank on PBA players like Scottie Thompson, Roger Pogoy, June Mar Fajardo, CJ Perez, Japeth Aguilar, Chris Newsome, Calvin Oftana and naturalized players Justin Brownlee and Ange Kouame.

Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser and Jamie Malonzo are also in the roster submitted to the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee but are still nursing injuries.

“Given the time frame, only two weeks before we play, when Coach Al (Chua) spoke to me, we needed someone right now. I talked to Chot (Reyes), and he gave me his blessing. He told me he thought I was the best guy for the job so that’s given me a lot of confidence,” Cone said during a news conference held at the PBA office in Libis, Quezon City.

“We’re looking truly at just 12 players. We’re about eight or nine deep right now. We don’t have a firm 12 right now.”

Cone admitted that completing the roster will be a major challenge.

“I have no idea at this point,” Cone said when asked about the composition of his roster.

Chua, however, stressed that Thompson, Fajardo and Aguilar are in as well as Brownlee, who is fresh from a surgery that removed bone spurs from his foot.

“June Mar is in for sure. Japeth is in. Brownlee is in. Scottie is in,” Chua said,

The 65-year-old Cone is a perfect choice as Gilas head coach.

In fact, he led a powerhouse Centennial Team to a bronze medal in the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998. The core of the team was composed of his Alaska players like Johnny Abarrientos, Jojo Lastimosa and Kenneth Duremdes while other PBA stars like Alvin Patrimonio, Andy Seigle, Dennis Espino and Vergel Meneses were added to additional firepower.

Since then, the country never emerged with an Asian Games medal of any color in men’s basketball as the national squad struggled in 2002 in Busan, 2010 in Guangzhou, and 2014 in Incheon.

Gilas, bannered by Rain or Shine, made a strong run in the 2018 edition in Jakarta as they tapped National Basketball Association stalwart Jordan Clarkson at the last minute, but they still fell short of making the medal podium and settled for fifth place.

Cone’s arrival is also a welcome development following Gilas Pilipinas’ dismal performance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Reyes failed to rally Gilas past the first round as they suffered heartbreaking losses to the Dominican Republic, Angola and Italy in the first round before bowing to South Sudan in the classification.

Although they prevailed over China in their last match to salvage some measure of pride, Reyes still stepped down, leaving the federation scampering to hire a quality coach who will call the shots in the Asian Games.

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