Gilas Pilipinas battles Hong Kong in Group B of Asia Cup Qualifiers

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Game Thursday
(Tsuen Wan Stadium, Hong Kong)
8 p.m. — Hong Kong vs Philippines

THIS may not have the high stakes offered in Gilas Pilipinas’ last international outing. But even then, Nationals are treating tonight’s away showdown with lightweight Hong Kong with as much importance as their Asian Games gold medal tussle with Jordan last October in Hangzhou, China.

For coach Tim Cone, the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers Group B opening game set at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Tsuen Wan Stadium figures well in the grand scheme of things for it serves as a starting block for the four-year Gilas program aimed at ultimately making the Olympics.

“Our goal is to do that (crack the 2028 Olympiad) but we’re not thinking about that or talking about that as a group. Our focus is what it’s going to take to get us there,” said Mr. Cone, who assembled a 12-man squad that will be on call for every international window, beginning this one, all the way to 2027.

He said the Asia Cup Qualifiers will be the gateway to the Continental meet, which in turn will be the entryway to the next FIBA World Cup, which will then be the doorway to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“We keep telling our guys, we’re not going to shortcut or jump around; we’re going to build consistently forward. That’s why this (Asia Cup Qualifiers opening window) is important,” he said.

“Yes, it’s important that we win. But it’s even more important that we build a foundation from which we can bring to the next window and from which we can go on to the next one and the next one after that.”

First order of business: Get the Gilas machine off to a good start versus Hong Kong.

Justin Brownlee takes the leadership mantle for Gilas 139 days after sparking the Nationals to Asiad gold at the expense of Jordan in China.

Mr. Brownlee returns after serving his three-month suspension for anti-doping violation and can’t wait to join forces with the likes of Scottie Thompson, Kai Sotto, CJ Perez, Dwight Ramos, last-minute replacement Japeth Aguilar and young guns Carl Tamayo and Kevin Quiambao.

“I’m definitely ready to get the suspension past me and just looking forward to moving forward,” said Mr. Brownlee, who spent his time in the freezer recovering from his ankle injury and working out.

“Of course, I don’t expect to be at my best (yet) but in due time I can get to that level. I’m a little bit older but I think I have a lot left in the tank. Against Hong Kong, I hope there’s no rust,” he added.

Mr. Brownlee and Co. battles a Hong Kong side that features a familiar face in Duncan Reid. The Hong Kong veteran guard suited up for the powerhouse Bay Area Dragons crew that Ginebra beat in seven gruelling games for the Season 47 PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown last year. — Olmin Leyba

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