Philippine basketball

Revelations, old hands: ‘Best 12’ banner Gilas Pilipinas 4-year roadmap

Rob Andrew Dongiapon, JR Isaga

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Revelations, old hands: ‘Best 12’ banner Gilas Pilipinas 4-year roadmap

FAMILIAR FACES. Kai Sotto (center) sings the national anthem along with Gilas Pilipinas team mainstays (from right) Jamie Malonzo, Scottie Thompson, and Calvin Oftana.

FIBA

Consisting of PBA and Japan B. League stars, a UAAP superstar, and a returning naturalized star, Tim Cone's Gilas Pilipinas may be a tough team to beat in the next four years of the revamped program

MANILA, Philippines – Following a successful Asian Games campaign that punctuated a roller-coaster four-year basketball cycle, Gilas Pilipinas will look to stir that same magic through its officially appointed head coach Tim Cone and his crew of established local stars.

Hoping to put an end to turbulent buildups for major tournaments, the vision for this version of the national team is to stick through the four-year FIBA cycle, ending with the 2027 World Cup.

The 66-year-old Cone handpicked the team, consisting of PBA and Japan B. League stars, a collegiate superstar, and an aging yet reliable naturalized player. For him, the players he tapped are the best the country could offer.

“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,” said Cone.

“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.”

Here are Gilas Pilipinas’ magic 12:

Justin Brownlee

Justin Brownlee has made some of the biggest shots in recent local basketball lore.

However, his career came to a screeching halt after testing positive for a banned substance in the Asian Games in October 2023. In that tournament, his herculean performances lifted Gilas to its first continental title in 61 years.

Missing the subsequent PBA Commissioner’s Cup as he served a voluntary suspension, Brownlee returns to the national team as one of Cone’s most trusted soldiers.

Brownlee, with Cone calling the shots, has never lost in any title series, winning six PBA championships with crowd darling Barangay Ginebra. Per league records, he is tied for the most titles by an import in PBA history alongside Alaska legend Sean Chambers.

Brownlee has also led Gilas to the 2023 Southeast Asian Games crown, regaining the regional title the country lost in 2022 via shocker against Indonesia.

The 35-year-old star stepped aside for NBA star Jordan Clarkson’s inclusion in the World Cup team before Cone tapped him in the Asian Games less than a month later.

Playing in the Philippines since 2016, Brownlee became a naturalized Filipino in January 2023.

Scottie Thompson

Another one of Cone’s players, the 30-year-old Scottie Thompson will look to provide stability in the point guard position for Gilas.

Cone picked Thompson in the 2015 PBA Draft, shaping him into one of the league’s best players.

Thompson was named the PBA MVP in 2022, before falling short of his back-to-back bid as he finished third in MVP voting last year, according to the final tally released by the league press corps.

Thompson struggled to find his groove in the World Cup, averaging only 1.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 12.5 minutes per game, according to the FIBA website.

The University of Perpetual Help product redeemed himself in the Asian Games, where he bumped up his numbers under the tutelage of Cone.

As the only natural point guard on the 12-man list, Thompson’s familiarity with Cone’s system should pay dividends as the FIBA cycle progresses.

June Mar Fajardo

Undoubtedly the greatest Filipino player of this generation, June Mar Fajardo will embark on, perhaps, his last ride with the national team.

Fajardo, who will be 37 years old by the time the 2027 World Cup unfolds, remains one of the most dominant players in the PBA.

Fajardo was named the PBA MVP once more in 2023, bagging his seventh plum in eight seasons. No one in history has ever won more than four.

The San Miguel superstar was pivotal in Gilas’ wins against Iran in the Asian Games quarterfinals, China in the semis, and Jordan in the finals.

Fajardo, the most experienced player in the bunch with three World Cup appearances, offers Cone an imposing presence inside through all of his 6-foot-10 frame.

Kai Sotto

Few players in the world can tower over Kai Sotto.

The 7-foot-3 titan has been a Filipino wunderkind for the longest time. After not hearing his name in the NBA Draft, Sotto took his talents to Australia’s NBL and Japan B. League, where he has been playing for the past two seasons.

Now, Sotto will return to the national squad with a chip on his shoulder following lackluster outings in the World Cup.

Sotto averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds in the World Cup as his minutes plummeted to just 14 per game.

The 21-year-old Sotto also saw action in the 2023 NBA Summer League where he played two games and tallied a combined 6 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks, per league records. It was also there that Sotto sustained a back injury that almost ruled him out of the World Cup.

After fully recovering from the injury, Sotto has been averaging 7.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks for the Yokohama B-Corsairs in the B. League, according to league records.

AJ Edu

AJ Edu was a revelation in the World Cup.

The Toyama Grouses import averaged 8.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in five games with the national team. His rebounding was also the seventh-highest in the tournament, behind some of the world’s best players.

Edu’s brightest highlight came in his debut game, impressing with his defense on perennial NBA All-Star Karl Anthony Towns in the loss to the Dominican Republic.

But the injury bug continues to hound the 24-year-old as he tore his meniscus last November while playing for the Grouses in the Japan B. League.

His injury, however, did not stop Cone from tapping him on his 12-man roster, citing long-term vision. His recovery time was initially for at least three months, per reports.

In his 14 games for Toyama so far, Edu averaged 13 points and 8.8 rebounds.

Dwight Ramos

Perhaps the face of the Gilas program will continue to represent the country for years to come.

Dwight Ramos has become a mainstay for Gilas Pilipinas since his arrival in the Philippines. In fact, he was the lone player to see action in all of the FIBA qualifier windows in the last cycle.

He shone bright in his first World Cup, notching 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.6 steals.

Ramos has been playing in Japan since 2021, jumping from Toyama to the Levanga Hokkaido last season.

As of writing, he is averaging a career-high 10.5 points per game, alongside 3.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game.

CJ Perez

After being a late call-up for the Asian Games, CJ Perez returns to the national team as one of its offensive spark plugs.

After a standout Asian Games run, Perez has since been neck-and-neck with Ginebra’s Christian Standhardinger for the Best Player of the Conference race in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup so far as his San Miguel Beermen compete in a best-of-7 finals series.

The Lyceum of the Philippines product has been a part of two World Cups.

Chris Newsome

Chris Newsome was cut from the World Cup team before impressing in the Asian Games where he was instrumental as a defensive ace in the gold medal game.

Newsome limited Jordan’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to just 24 points on 29 shots in the gold medal match, displaying his two-way chops for the Cone-mentored Gilas.

Now, the Meralco Bolts star will don the Gilas jersey once more to continue what he started at the tail end of last year.

After getting FIBA clearance to play as a local in 2022, Newsome only got to play in one window of the World Cup qualifiers before being one of the final cuts in the World Cup.

At 33 years old, Newsome remains one of the most athletic players in the country.

Calvin Oftana

Calvin Oftana is entering his basketball prime. The 28-year-old averaged 21.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in the last PBA Commissioners’ Cup for the TNT Tropang Giga.

First called up for Gilas in 2020, Oftana was one of the cuts in the World Cup, before winning gold in the Asian Games.

Oftana had since taken the lead role for the Tropang Giga in the PBA. He shot an impeccable 49% from the field, 41% from three, and 90% from the free throw line in the last conference.

With his leap into the pro league, Oftana should be primed for a bigger role in this iteration of the national team.

Jamie Malonzo

After missing the latter part of the World Cup and Gilas’ Asiad conquest, Jamie Malonzo is back with the national team.

Malonzo has been one of Cone’s most reliable weapons in Ginebra. Malonzo recorded 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in the past PBA Commissioner’s Cup, where he was a consistent starter for the team.

The former La Salle standout provides more than just numbers, as he was often designated to be the primary defender against imports for length, athleticism, and quickness.

Malonzo, however, sustained a knee injury in the Commissioner’s Cup semifinals but has since been relieved of any major scare after initial fears of any structural damage.

The 27-year-old is expected to recover in time for the first window of FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.

Kevin Quiambao

Kevin Quiambao has been one of the fastest rising stars in local basketball.

Quiambao has recently led Strong Group Athletics to a bridesmaid finish in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Tournament. He was the top scorer in the team headlined by NBA veteran Dwight Howard, Andray Blatche, and Andre Roberson, norming 18 points per game, per tournament data.

He was named to the All-Tournament team and even received offers to play as a naturalized player for the United Arab Emirates national team.

This came after his stellar UAAP Season 86 run, where he both received the season and finals MVPs after leading the De La Salle Green Archers to the championship.

The 22-year-old returns to the national team after brief stints in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup and World Cup qualifier windows.

Carl Tamayo

Fondly remembered for his UAAP performances with the University of the Philippines, Carl Tamayo had since brought his winning pedigree overseas.

Tamayo won the 2022-2023 Japan B. League championship with the Ryukyu Golden Kings in his first season as a pro before asking for his release the following season.

He normed 3.9 points, and 2.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes over 23 games in his second year with the Golden Kings.

Tamayo impressed in his last East Asia Super League game versus the PBA’s Meralco Bolts, going off for 16 points on Philippine soil. Tamayo was also named in the B. League Asia All-Stars in Okinawa.

The former NU high school star made his Gilas debut in 2021 and had been a part of the national squad in numerous tournament windows and the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup. – Rappler.com

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