Justin Brownlee is back in town and back in harness for the national team, bearing with him the same level of enthusiasm that greeted his return.
“[F]rom the first [Fiba] window when I joined the team and even before that, being around the team, seeing them play at the World [Cup], It’s all been a blessing, and I just can’t wait to be again a part of that,” the naturalized player told reporters on Friday night in his first media scrum since returning to Manila.
“Hopefully, we can create some special moments. I think with the team that’s been assembled, of course, coach Tim (Cone) and his brilliant mind [for] basketball, I think there are definitely going to be some moments [that] we can, in our Filipino culture, cherish again,” he added.
Brownlee was coming off a three-month voluntary suspension for flunking a doping test during the Hangzhou Asian Games. The sanction, which was applied retroactively, cleared the way for the naturalized forward’s participation in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup Qualifiers, the first major international tournament in Gilas Pilipinas’ calendar under Cone.
Ever the optimist, Brownlee expressed his excitement over leading the squad that will be first tested by Hong Kong on Feb. 22 at Tsuen Wan Stadium.
“I think the team that’s put together is a very dynamic team. It’s young, athletic and energetic—with some of the best talent in the Philippines right now, in my opinion,” he said. In that long-haul roster, Brownlee reunites with some of his Asian Games teammates: June Mar Fajardo, Scottie Thompson, Chris Newsome, Calvin Oftana and CJ Perez. The soft-spoken ace will also get to play alongside Dwight Ramos, AJ Edu and Jamie Malonzo who all saw action during the previous World Cup. Rounding out that new-look lineup are Carl Tamayo and varsity star Kevin Quiambao.
Brownlee has yet to meet with the new Gilas squad, but its wealth in talent and its youthful potential paired with Cone’s tactical mind has Brownlee gushing this early.
“The way coach Tim is, he likes to build. And I think in the next three or four years—I really think—Philippine basketball is definitely going to be on the rise even more,” he said.
Brownlee and the Nationals are expected to hold camp next week, and the longtime Barangay Ginebra resident reinforcement is optimistic that he’ll get back into competitive shape by that time.
“My ankle is feeling a whole lot better from four months ago. Right now, I feel good. I feel rested. I feel healthy,” he said.
“I’d say I’m two weeks away (from fitness),” he said. “But like I’ve said, I’ve been pretty much working out most days and since I’ve been back in the Philippines, I’ve been trying to mostly work on my conditioning and things like that.”
Also slated for the Nationals is a home stand against Chinese Taipei on Feb. 25 at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.