By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno

Gilas Pilipinas Men head coach Tim Cone (PSC photo)

MANILA – After his successful stint in the Hangzhou Asian Games, where the Philippines ended its 61-year gold medal drought in men’s basketball, Tim Cone will be given the reins as head coach.

“Coach Tim accomplished what has not been done in decades with only a few weeks to prepare and multiple challenges in terms of personnel so we’re excited to see what he can accomplish with a long-term program in place especially if such program is supported by all basketball stakeholders.” Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio said in a news release on Monday.

First up for Cone will be preparing the team that will be seeing action next month for the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

Gilas will battle Hong Kong on Feb. 22 at the Tsuen Wan Stadium and Chinese Taipei on Feb. 25 at the PhilSports Arena.

The Philippines will also compete in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament from July 2 to 7 in Latvia.

“Earlier this month, coach Tim presented his plans to local leagues from which players will likely be selected from. This program will be put to test this year and adjustments will be made as necessary,” added SBP Executive Director Erika Dy.

Cone’s winning pedigree is second to none as the winningest coach in PBA history with 25 championships. He is the only two-time PBA Grand Slam winner in the league’s 48-year history.

This will be Cone’s fourth stint as the head coach of the national team. He was at the helm of the storied Centennial Team that won bronze in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. He also led the gold-medal-winning Gilas squad in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the role of national team head coach again,” said Cone. “I’ve always firmly believed from back in 1998 when I coached the Centennial Team that you’ve got to go out and get the best players in the country to represent us. We all have different opinions on who the best players are but we’re confident we picked the best players who will form the best team.”

Gilas’ ACQ pool revealed amid uncertainties

The SBP also announced that 12 players have been called up to the Gilas pool for the FIBA ACQ February window.

Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson, Justin Brownlee, and Jamie Malonzo, San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez, Meralco’s Chris Newsome, and TNT’s Calvin Oftana have been chosen to the Gilas pool among the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) players.

Backstopping them are Japan B League Asian imports Dwight Ramos of Hokkaido, AJ Edu of Toyama, Kai Sotto of Yokohama, and free agent Carl Tamayo.

Reigning University Athletic Association of the Philippines Most Valuable Player and Dubai International Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team member Kevin Quiambao completes the 12.

However, uncertainties surround Brownlee, Edu, and Malonzo amid their inclusion in the pool.

Brownlee is currently serving a provisional suspension after testing positive for a prohibited substance after Gilas’ Asian Games championship.

Alfrancis Chua, the Gilas team manager during the Asian Games, earlier said the national team deferred from appealing Brownlee’s case and accepted the sanctions that come along with the failed doping test, which spill through all competitions including the PBA, although it was never revealed how long the suspension will be.

Brownlee was eventually replaced by Tony Bishop for the PBA Commissioner’s Cup, but he could only help the Ginebra Kings reach the semifinals before getting dethroned as defending champions by the San Miguel Beermen.

Brownlee was placed in the Gilas pool in hopes that the suspension would be lifted anytime soon.

“[FIBA’s] decision can come down sometime this week that will hopefully free him up for the window,” Cone said before formally receiving the President’s Award along with Panlilio and other SBP officials during the PSA Awards at the Diamond Hotel.

Meanwhile, both Malonzo and Edu are on the injury list.

Edu tore his meniscus last November and has yet to return to action.

Malonzo, on the other hand, also suffered a knee injury in Game 3 of the Ginebra-San Miguel series on Sunday night at the SM Mall of Asia Arena with the diagnosis still unknown.

Gilas will face Hong Kong on the road on Feb. 22 before hosting Chinese Taipei on Feb. 25 at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.(With Ivan Stewart Saldajeno/PNA)