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Returning Brownlee to boost Gilas bid

Photograph COURTESY OF PSC JUSTIN Brownlee is set to suit up for Gilas Pilpinas after getting cleared for the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

Doubts were raised when Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone made a shocking move of including Justin Brownlee in the 12-man team that will compete in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

Now, Cone’s faith had been rewarded.

After observing a self-imposed suspension for three months, the International Basketball Federation formally cleared Brownlee, allowing him to see action in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers that will be held in Hong Kong on 22 February and Manila on 25 February.

In a statement released on Saturday morning, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas announced that Brownlee can now suit up for Gilas after the FIBA issued him a Notice of Charge after carrying the proposed three-month period of ineligibility in relation to the anti-doping violation that happened during the 19th Asian Games last year.

The 35-year-old Brownlee had played well with Gilas due to his long stint with Barangay Ginebra that made him a six-time champion and three-time Best Import in the Philippine Basketball Association.

But after leading Gilas to the historic gold medal in the Asian Games, the Swiss-based International Testing Agency announced that he flunked the drug test after being found with traces of a banned substance — cannabis — in his system.

Although cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug, it is still part of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances due to its addictive nature. SBP insiders said Bronwlee might have resorted to this alternative medicine in treating his injury that enabled him to play in the Asian Games.

The FIBA didn’t release any verdict but the Kings, coached by Cone, opted to sit out Brownlee during their title defense of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Ginebra lost the crown after getting swept by San Miguel Beer in the best-of-five seminal series.

It, however, appears that the Kings made the right call.

“We’re elated that the consequences FIBA issued does not prevent Justin Brownlee from playing for Gilas in the upcoming window,” SBP president Al Panlilio said.

“Having him as our naturalized player alongside some of the locals who have played with him before will be beneficial to the squad.”

Brownlee’s inclusion is a major boost for the Gilas squad that is determined to sustain the momentum it gained from its historic performance in the Asian Games.

In fact, he is the most crucial piece in Cone’s championship puzzle as he is tipped to blend perfectly with his Ginebra teammates Scottie Thompson and Jamie Malonzo as well as June Mar Fajardo, Chris Newsome, Calvin Ofana, CJ Perez, Dwight Ramos, AJ Edu, Carl Tamayo, Kai Sotto and Kevin Quiambao.

Brownlee is expected to arrive around 12 February while Gilas Pilipinas starts its preparation on 15 February.

Cone said with Bronwlee around, they will have solid chances against the Hong Kong squad that will parade a handful of naturalized players on 22 February as well as the dangerous Taiwanese side on 25 February.

“Justin Brownlee is a big part of the team and the program moving forward. Having him means that we can hit the ground running,” Cone said, adding that chemistry will not be a problem for as long as Brownlee is in great shape following his three-month inactivity.

He served his suspension on 9 November, which means that he will formally get reinstated on 8 February.

“He had already played with most of the guys so the chemistry will already be there. He can now ramp up his conditioning and be ready to go once his suspension is formally lifted.”

Brownlee said he is thrilled to play again.

“I can’t wait to play basketball again and put this behind me,” he said.

“It’s always been an honor to represent the Philippines and I’m happy to be given the chance again.”

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