IN THE early hours of Sunday morning, the triumphant Gilas Pilipinas team touched down in Manila, wearing smiles of victory.

9 October 2023

IN THE early hours of Sunday morning, the triumphant Gilas Pilipinas team touched down in Manila, wearing smiles of victory.

The coaching staff, led by Tim Cone, and the players were met with a heartfelt welcome from the Philippine Sports Commission and the airport personnel at NAIA Terminal 1.

Their arrival, just before 1:30 A.M., set a festive atmosphere. Excitement filled the air as people eagerly sought out selfies and group photos, particularly with Justin Brownlee, whose remarkable 33-point second-half performance orchestrated Gilas’ astonishing comeback from a 20-point deficit against host China, resulting in a thrilling 77-76 victory and securing a spot in the gold medal round.

“I’m at a loss for words at this moment. You know, the guys worked incredibly hard, and we had some tremendous wins against Iran and China. The China game was epic, and then we played exceptionally well against Jordan,” expressed Cone during an interview broadcasted by One Sports. “When we needed it most, we saved our best for last and stepped up when it counted.”

Assembled only 12 days before the actual men’s basketball competition in the 19th Asian Games, Gilas faced numerous challenges, from player eligibility issues to adapting quickly to Cone’s system. In hindsight, the American coach observed significant growth among the players in the short time they spent together.

“It was a thrill to be with these guys and witness their growth in the brief time we had. It felt like our last dance together,” added Cone, who orchestrated the Philippines’ gold medal victory at the Asian Games held in Hangzhou, China, on Friday night.

This gold medal marked the end of the Philippines’ 61-year drought in basketball titles at the Asian Games. It was the second international tournament victory for Gilas, following their triumphant gold medal campaign at the Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last May.

For Brownlee, this latest experience with Gilas ranks at the pinnacle of his basketball journey, given the historical significance of what the Filipino team achieved in China. “It’s got to be at the top, despite everything, with the history, over 60 years. It’s definitely up there. Man, that’s special. I’m just so happy,” beamed the 35-year-old Brownlee, who contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds in Gilas’ 70-60 victory over Jordan to secure the gold.