The looming absence of Justin Brownlee for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel will definitely level the playing field when the Philippine Basketball Association opens its Commissioner’s Cup on 5 November.
Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao told Daily Tribune that it’s going to be a free-for-all battle with Brownlee, a six-time PBA champion and three-time Best Import awardee, set to miss the coming season after failing the drug test in the aftermath of the Asian Games.
The 35-year-old Brownlee is facing a two-year ban after being found to have traces of Carboxy-THC, a banned substance linked to the use of cannabis, in his system.
The International Testing Agency already announced its findings but the International Basketball Federation has yet to formally reach out to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the PBA about Brownlee’s possible sanction.
Still, the Kings are playing it safe by assuming that their resident import will be sitting out the coming season. Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua said they are already looking for an import who can lead them in their title-retention campaign.
Guiao, however, stressed that Brownlee’s absence gives us a chance to contend for the title.
“Off hand, it will give the other teams or probably give us a better chance of getting to the finals or semifinals, whichever,” Guiao said in an interview during the PBA Media Day on Tuesday.
“We all know with Brownlee around, it’s either a championship or finals for him and Ginebra.”
Guiao, however, is not discounting the possibility of seeing Brownlee in Ginebra uniform due to the massive resources of the San Miguel Corporation.
And with FIBA yet to announce its sanction, the door of the PBA remains open for Brownlee to enter.
Guiao said even without Brownlee, the Kings remain powerful with the acquisition of veteran guard Maverick Ahanmisi via the free agency.
Ahanmisi is coming off his finest season playing for Converge last year, but the FiberXers didn’t renew his services until he became a free agent.
“With the resources of Ginebra, the experience of the coaching staff and their scouting abilities, they can be able to get a good import,” Guiao said.
“If you have the resources, the expertise and the network, they can be able to do such, although it’s very hard to fill the big shoes of Justin Brownlee. You won’t find somebody of the same mold, of course, and there’s only one Justin Brownlee, but I’m sure they can figure that out.”
Guiao is handling a Rain or Shine team that has become bigger with the addition of Luis Villegas and Keith Datu, who were selected in the first round of the recent draft.
With the 6-foot-7 Villegas and the 6-foot-8 Datu around, the Elasto Painters now have enough ceiling to match up with powerhouse big men like June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer and Christian Standhardinger of Ginebra.
Guiao never had the luxury of quality big men since he coached Red Bull, then bannered by the twin towers of Davonn Harp and Mick Pennisi.
“Teams are looking for a match up for June Mar and Christian or Japeth (Aguilar),” Guiao said.
“So, when we saw that these big men are available for the Draft, we grabbed that opportunity.”
“We have many plans because the Draft was so deep and you have other options, but when we saw the big men, and they’re quality big men available, we didn’t make second thoughts.”
“This will address our size problem and also, to be able to match up with the likes of June Mar, Japeth and Christian.”