‘What we’ve always wanted’: Cone says Gilas Pilipinas stunner vs Latvia huge for PH hoops

Delfin Dioquino

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‘What we’ve always wanted’: Cone says Gilas Pilipinas stunner vs Latvia huge for PH hoops

SIDELINES. Head coach Tim Cone (left) in action for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.


An ultra-rare win over a European team further boosts Gilas Pilipinas' resurgence as it shocks world No. 6 Latvia in its own backyard in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament

MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas has gone through the worst in the past years that its recent success feels like a breath of fresh air.

And an ultra-rare win over a European team further boosted the Nationals’ resurgence as they shocked world No. 6 Latvia in its own backyard by way of an 89-80 stunner in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Riga.

The win marked the Philippines’ first over a European squad in an official FIBA competition in over six decades, or since it hacked out an 84-82 victory over Spain in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

“Anytime you can get to the international arena and have success, that is a huge feather in your cap, not just for me, but for all the players and all the people back home,” said head coach Tim Cone.

“We are so passionate about the game, so for us to have success on the world stage really means a lot to what is going on back home because this is what we’ve always wanted.”

Pulling off a win seemed like a far-fetched idea, particularly against a Latvian side that finished fifth in the previous FIBA World Cup co-hosted by the Philippines.

There, Latvia assumed the role of a giant slayer, taking down powerhouses France and Spain and going oh-so close to advancing to the semifinals before it lost by just two points to eventual champion Germany in the quarterfinals.

Latvia was also coming off a rousing win as it opened the OQT with an 83-55 beating of Georgia, a team bannered by NBA players Sandro Mamukelashvili of the San Antonio Spurs and Goga Bitadze of the Orlando Magic.

But the Filipinos flipped the script, racing to a hot start then surviving the Latvians’ fiery fourth-quarter comeback to go up 1-0 in Group A and zero in on a spot in the crossover semifinals.

Justin Brownlee, who helped the Philippines reclaim the Southeast Asian Games title and win the Asian Games crown for the first time since 1962 last year, put the team on his back anew with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists.

Starters Kai Sotto (18 points), Dwight Ramos (12), June Mar Fajardo (11), and Chris Newsome (10) also did their parts as they all scored in double figures.

“This is a huge step for us to be able to play a Latvia team at home and just go at them, face to face, and come out with a win,” said Cone. “It is amazing for us.”

But the job is far from done, with Cone instilling in his wards the belief that they can go all the way as the Philippines seeks to end a decades-long absence in Olympic basketball since it last competed in the 1972 Munich Games.

Playing back-to-back games in less than 24 hours, Gilas Pilipinas shoots for a sweep of Group A against Georgia at 8:30 pm on Thursday, July 4 (Manila time).

“We’re not here just to win one game. We really want to try and and get to the finals and see what would happen if we get to the finals,” said Cone. –

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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.