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Cone savors sweetness of 2023


‘It was a time of much learning and growing for me. It was an exciting time.’

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ONE SPORTS TIM Cone admits that he learned a lot of lessons in the year that passed.

For Tim Cone, 2023 was the best year in his long and colorful coaching career.

Cone, the winningest mentor in Philippine Basketball Association history, said the year 2023 was truly special and unforgettable as it gave him a lot of success both in the local and international arenas.

“The year 2023 was a very interesting year with a victory over the Dragons in the beginning, then working with Coach Chot (Reyes) in the World Cup and finishing it with a win in the Asian Games,” Cone told Daily Tribune in a Viber message.

“It was a time of much learning and growing for me. It was an exciting time.”

With Cone at the helm, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel defeated the visiting Bay Area Dragons in a grueling seven-game series of the Commissioner’s Cup.

Winning the crown wasn’t easy as Bay Area was powered by a pair of explosive imports in Andrew Nicholson and Myles Powell with an Olympian in Brian Goorjian calling the shots.

Still, Cone and the Kings did the unthinkable of slaying the Dragons, completing the job in front of a record crowd of more than 54,000 at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.

Ginebra’s luck ran out the following conference.

Kings’import Justin Brownlee returned but the TNT Tropang Giga paraded a high powered roster bannered by hot-shooting Filipino-American playmaker in Mikey Williams and a former NBA journeyman in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

The Tropang Giga coach — Jojo Lastimosa — also knows Cone like the back of his hand after playing for him during the glory days of Alaska in the 1990s.

True enough, the Tropang Giga delivered and sent the Kings crashing via a 93-97 defeat in Game 6 of their best-of-seven title showdown.

Few months later, Cone was back at the bench, this time, as chief assistant of Reyes with Gilas Pilipinas in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.

Gilas suffered an early setback to an import-laden Cambodian squad early on. Their shocking 68-79 loss was so bad that it prompted Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas chairman emeritus Manny Pangilinan to rip the team on social media.

Pressured to deliver due to the wound created by their painful setback in the previous edition of the Games in Vietnam, Gilas regrouped until they reached the gold medal round against familiar foes — the Cambodians.

This time, the Filipinos prevailed as they booked an 80-69 win to regain the throne of Southeast Asian basketball.

The tandem of Reyes and Cone also steered Gilas when the country hosted the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

In fact, Reyes even sent Cone — his former boss at Alaska — to Granada, Spain just to scout National Basketball Association star Karl-Anthony Towns and the Dominican Republic before their opening match.

The Filipinos ended their World Cup stint with only one win but they experienced playing at an elite level against countries with varying styles like Italy, Angola, South Sudan and China.

Cone’s biggest break came in the 19th Asian Games.

With Reyes and more than half of the team begging off, Cone assembled a rag-tag team to carry the torch for the Filipinos in the biggest and most prestigious event in Asia.

The Filipinos overcame a lot of setbacks to advance to the knockout round, where they beat a powerhouse Iranian squad to set up a dream semifinal duel with China — the same team they beat in the World Cup a few weeks before.

The Chinese, with the loud Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre on their side, rallied early, erecting a 20-point lead in the first half to crush the morale of the Filipinos.

But Cone and his boys refused to back down.

Gilas patiently chewed the lead one basket at a time until they found themselves trailing by just five in the final minute. Brownlee took over, knocking down back-to-back three-pointers to take a one-point lead.

Then, they watched the young Chinese crumble under pressure to secure a nail-biting 76-75 victory.

In the finals, the Filipinos met Hollis-Jefferson and the Jordanians, but momentum was already on their side, sending them to a 70-60 win that gave them their first men’s basketball title in 61 years.

Cone is no stranger to winning.

He won a grand slam with Alaska in 1996 and San Mig Coffee in 2014 to emerge as the most successful mentor in PBA history with 25 titles.

But he still believes that nothing will beat the sweetness of 2023, especially since he brought glory to the country and learned a lot of lessons along the way.

“The years 1996 and 2014 were unbelievable for me personally and to the players,” the 66-year-old American, who has been staying in the country for nearly six decades and married to a Filipina, said.

“But playing and representing the country trumps everything.”

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