GILAS Pilipinas departed for Hangzhou, China, brimming with confidence after clinching an 86-81 victory against the formidable Korean club Changwon LG Sakers during a thrilling friendly match at the PhilSports Arena on Friday, September 22, 2023.
Justin Brownlee, June Mar Fajardo, and Calvin Oftana spearheaded the Gilas charge against one of the top KBL teams. This win serves as a significant boost as the national squad embarks on its journey to the 19th Asian Games.
Team Philippines is set to commence its Asiad campaign with challenging matchups against Bahrain, Thailand, and Jordan in group play. The aspiration is to climb to the pinnacle of the regional meet, a goal Coach Tim Cone and his team have set their sights on.
Facing the import-reinforced Sakers, Gilas showcased glimpses of their potential in the upcoming Hangzhou competition.
Despite limited practice time, Brownlee and his teammates displayed remarkable cohesion, dictating the tempo for most of the contest en route to their hard-fought five-point victory.
At halftime, the Nationals held a 47-39 advantage, thanks to Brownlee and Fajardo, contributing 10 points each. Subsequently, they relied on the sharpshooting of Brownlee, Oftana, and Arvin Tolentino to break free from a closely contested encounter.
Tolentino’s three-pointer shattered a 70-all deadlock, while Brownlee’s timely trey ignited Gilas’ finishing surge against the Changwon squad, led by former NBA player Dante Cunningham.
Coach Cone opted to introduce substitutions, fielding Tolentino, Kevin Alas, Chris Ross, and CJ Perez, as they await the final confirmation regarding the status of their original choices—Terrence Romeo, Calvin Abueva, Simon Perkins, and Moala Tautuaa. The latter trio watched the friendly match from the stands.
Cone earlier anticipated a challenging test against a strong team bolstered by American imports Dante Cunningham and Reggie Perry, Egyptian standout Assem Marei, and Filipino talent Justin Gutang.
The game was open to the public, and Cone extended an invitation to Gilas supporters to rally behind the team throughout the Asian Games competition in Hangzhou.
While Gilas initially planned to face Meralco before their departure, uncertainties surrounding the eligibility of Calvin Abueva, Jason Perkins, Terrence Romeo, and Mo Tautuaa led to the cancellation of that friendly match.
Despite their limited friendly game opportunities, the Nationals believe that their intensive practice sessions have provided them with invaluable insights and preparation. Their ultimate goal is to secure a podium finish, a feat not accomplished since the Centennial Team secured bronze in 1998 in Bangkok, with Cone himself at the helm of that historic achievement.