Naturalized ace Justin Brownlee will be back in harness for the national basketball program when Gilas Pilipinas buckles down to work later this month.
And more than the impact that he’s going to make on the court, coach Tim Cone is even more thrilled to see how his old hand will influence the sport and this nation’s basketball-crazed fans.
“More than possibly winning with his presence in the lineup, he will represent the Philippines in a way that will make all his countrymen proud,” Cone said of Brownlee, who on Saturday morning was cleared to play by the International Basketball Federation (Fiba).
“He’ll set a standard in the program that will live long beyond his playing for the team. That’s the impact he will have on the team and the program,” the multitiled mentor went on.
Brownlee is coming off a three-month voluntary suspension after flunking a doping test during his stint with the National Five in the Hangzhou Asian Games last October. He has been away from the public eye and social media—his last Instagram entry far from basketball-related.
A vital cog in the reclamation continental championship, Brownlee is set to reprise his role under Cone, reuniting with gold-winning teammates June Mar Fajardo, CJ Perez, Calvin Oftana and Chris Newsome.
The squad, which includes Jamie Malonzo, Japan-based standouts Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto, AJ Edu and Carl Tamayo, and varsity star Kevin Quiambao, will first test its mettle against host Hong Kong on Feb. 22. The Nationals will have a quick turnaround as they host Chinese-Taipei at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City two days later.
Cone also eased any worries that Brownlee may be out of shape after having been shelved for three months.
“Justin always works hard to maintain his shape, so I’m not worried,” he said. “On the contrary, I believe his rest from his surgery will do him good.”
Brownlee went under the knife to remove bone spurs from his foot ahead of the Asian Games. Basketball and sporting leaders have cited a possible therapeutic use of cannabis as the reason for his failed doping test.
Cone and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas have pegged Feb. 15 as the beginning of the first wave of practices, with another closed-door session at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, being considered.
Also slated for the Nationals is the Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Latvia this July, where the Philippines will try to defy the odds and catch one of the four last tickets to the Paris Summer Olympic Games set in August.