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MANILA, Philippines – New Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone apologized to Justine Baltazar for his “hasty remarks” after claiming that the talented big man has shown “zero interest” to play for the national team.
Cone bared during his introductory press conference on Thursday, September 7, that the squad – then led by former head coach Chot Reyes – wanted to bring in Baltazar for the FIBA World Cup, but the 6-foot-9 standout was always unavailable.
His statement opened a can of worms, with Baltazar insisting that he never got the call despite his desire to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas.
“I don’t want to start off this journey with a controversy, so I’m going to do my best to clarify it. I apologize to Justine Baltazar for my hasty remarks regarding his exclusion from the World Cup pool,” Cone wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday.
Cone said he only spoke based on the information provided to him by people from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
“I did not mean to infer that he didn’t want to play for Gilas, but rather I was told that we (someone from the SBP – not sure who) called him or his representatives and he was not available. We really wanted him at the time because Kai (Sotto) was a question mark and we were lacking bigs,” wrote Cone.
“Now whether he had reasons for not joining us, or if there was miscommunication or whether he was actually not called at all, I do not know because I was not part of the process to contact him, and I spoke out of order in the press conference.”
Cone also apologized to Pampanga Governor Dennis “Delta” Pineda, who handles Baltazar.
Baltazar plays for Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League club Pampanga Giant Lanterns, a team owned by the provincial government and coached by Pineda.
“I loved watching Justine play in La Salle but have not met the young man nor have I met or spoken to Mr. Pineda. But to both I apologize. It was not my intention to run Justine’s name through this controversy. In fact, I wanted to mention at the time of the press conference how much we had thought of him joining the pool,” Cone wrote.
“The kid can play!”
Baltazar has not seen action for the national team since the 2021 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia.
After a short-lived stint in the Japan B. League and a botched bid to take his talents to the Korean Basketball League, Baltazar has been a dominant force in local leagues, playing in the MPBL and Pilipinas Super League. – Rappler.com