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'Wiser' Tim Cone not taking things for granted in SEA Games

MANILA, Philippines – It's easy to get caught in the hoopla of being the heavy favorites in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games

But not coach Tim Cone after learing the hard way two decades ago.

While the gold medal is the ultimate goal, Cone would rather have Gilas Pilipinas focus on the task at hand, worried that they would fall into the same trap that doomed the Philippines in the 1998 Asian Games. 

"[I]'d like to think I'm a little bit wiser, maybe a little bit smarter than I was back in 1998," he said. "I obviously got more experience and I've grown as a coach." 

As fans who have religiously followed the national team know, the 1998 Asian Games marked one of the most painful moments in Philippine basketball.

Yes, the Philippines still won bronze – its last podium finish in the continental meet – but at that time, that was considered an underachievement. 

Behind Cone and his crew of bona fide PBA superstars – among them Alvin Patrimonio, Allan Caidic, Vergel Meneses, and Johnny Abarrientos – the Philippines was touted to win the gold medal. 

But it didn't happen as the Centennial Team, after winning its first 4 games, suffered an 83-103 loss to South Korea in its final match in the quarterfinal round. 

A win over South Korea would have set the Philippines to a semifinals date with Kazakhstan, which it beat earlier in the tournament, but it instead faced powerhouse and eventual champion China.

Led by former NBA player Wang Zhizhi, China notched an 82-73 win to advance and relegate the Philippines to the bronze-medal duel. 

Fast forward to the present, Cone – despite kicking off the SEA Games with a 52-point rout of Singapore – wants Gilas Pilipinas to take a one-game-at-a-time approach, no matter how trite that sounds. 

So attention now is solely on Vietnam before they shift their focus on Myanmar, and eventually, the semifinals. 

"I kind of lean on that experience of not taking anything for granted, making sure that we're dotting all of our Is and crossing our Ts, and leaving no stone unturned, and every other cliché you want to use." 

Cone added: "I don't think I did that back in '98. I think I took things for granted. We don't want to take anything for granted this time around." 

On the other hand, Cone has accepted that nothing but the gold is expected of them.

"Even though we are the heavy favorites, it's a different kind of pressure. We don't want to pretend like we're not. We want to leave it out there and we know we are and we want to live up to it," he said. 

Gilas Pilipinas guns for its second straight win as it tangles with Vietnam (2-0) in Group A on Friday, December 6, at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com

Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.

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