Naturalized players Justin Brownlee and Ange Kouame will be at the helm when Gilas Pilipinas formally opened its training camp for the 19th Asian Games on Monday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
Gilas head coach Tim Cone said only 12 players will be invited, including Brownlee and Kouame who will be locked in for roster spots in the team that will see action in the quadrennial meet starting 26 September at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium in Hangzhou, China.
“Only 12,” the noted Barangay Ginebra San Miguel mentor said in a Viber message to Daily Tribune on Sunday.
“If we need extra bodies to join them in training, we have the Ginebra players, including LA (Tenorio), who will not only join the team as an assistant coach, but will also participate in the live drills as a practice player.”
According to the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee, teams will be allowed to deploy only one naturalized player in the men’s basketball competition.
But Cone stressed that both Brownlee and Kouame had already committed to join their training and will be part of the team that will leave for China for the Asian Games despite the standing offer of a European club to the former Ateneo de Manila University superstar.
“He’ll be there along with Justin. We’re really planning on bringing them there together, but we’re now sure yet on how fit Justin is at this time,” Cone said, referring to Bronwlee who is still fresh from a foot surgery.
“We’re not gonna have the continuity that we want. The players from Japan won’t be available. We’re going to have around 60-70 percent of the team to be new guys, who have played for me or been around me. So we knew these obstacles were there.”
Aside from Brownlee and Kouame, Cone also assured that Scottie Thompson will be part of the Gilas roster.
Thompson, the reigning Most Valuable Player of the Philippine Basketball Association, had been rejected to be part of Gilas Pilipinas in two major international tournaments.
He failed to land a roster spot behind stars like Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez, Mark Barroca, and Robert Bolick when Gilas competed in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China in 2019.
Few months later, he was snubbed anew when Gilas campaigned in the 30th Southeast Asian Games that the country hosted in 2019.
This year, his time finally came.
Despite suffering a hand injury in the final stretch of their European training, Thompson still edged stars like Calvin Oftana and Chris Newsome.
“Even at this point, I still can’t believe that I left out Scottie from that 2019 roster in the SEA Games,” Cone said.
“At that time, not including Scottie was the right thing to do. But there’s no way that Scottie will be left out this time, I’m sure about that.”
Cone said putting up a competitive squad with barely two weeks left before the Asian Games is easier said than done.
“It’s a tough situation to be in. People were telling me, ‘congratulations,’ and I replied ‘why not offer me condolences instead,’” said Cone in jest in an interview on Saturday.
The two-time grand slam coach said he is motivated to win an Asian Games medal to either match or surpass his achievement in the 1998 edition in Bangkok.
“We’re not gonna go there thinking, ‘Oh, I hope we just get a bronze or I hope we make it to the first round or hope we get a silver. We’re gonna go there with the idea that we expect to get a gold (medal).”
“I mean it’s like the PBA. You don’t start the conference off thinking, ‘Oh, I hope I make third place or just make it to the semis or even to the finals.’ No, you have one goal and that is to win the championship.”