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Thursday, July 25, 2024

History beckons for Gilas, Jordan in Asiad finale

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Hangzhou, China – The Philippines embarks on a mission that would have been impossible two weeks ago as it shoots for its first basketball gold medal in the Asian Games in over six decades when it plays Jordan at 4 p.m. on Friday in the men’s finals at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center here.

After a rocky path to the gold-medal match, the hastily assembled Gilas Pilipinas team of coach Tim Cone has already made history as the first team to make it to the Asiad finals in 31 years since an all-pro team of coach Robert Jaworski finished behind China during the 1992 Beijing event.

But why stop here?

Cone, for one, has unfished business in the continental Games as the Centennial Team he coached in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad fell to China in the semifinals.

“This is special,” said an emotional Cone.

“Twenty-five years ago, China beat me. And I tell you, to this day that’s the only game where I cried. To come back here and get this victory now is to come full cycle. It’s an emotional time for us and, I think, for everybody,” said Cone following his wards’ stunning 77-76 win over China late Wednesday to barge into the finals.

Justin Brownlee was magical in the victory. He scored 33 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, highlighted by back-to-back treys as Gilas completed an amazing comeback from 20 points down to bring down the Great Wall right in its own backyard.

Cone added: “I’m trying to keep an even keel because we got another game, and our goal still is to win the gold.”

Standing in their way is a Jordan team with a Kobe Bryant-like leader in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who steered the team to a massive 87-62 spanking of the Filipinos in the first round. Curiously,

Hollis-Jefferson will also be an import in the coming Philippine Basketball Association conference.

“We said that from the beginning. I’m not sure we believe we’d get here, but we did say that from the beginning. We also kept saying we want to get back and play Jordan, so we’re back to play them. Now we’ll see what we can do on Saturday,” added Cone.

Jordan has never won the Asian Games title but has finished fourth place twice, including in 1986 in Seoul when it bowed to an all-amateur Philippine team coached by Joe Lipa in the battle for bronze.

The Philippines, on the other hand, last ruled Asiad basketball in1962 with Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga at the helm, at the tail end of an 11-year reign as champions — when Cone was only seven years old and still two years away from moving to the Philippines with his parents.

Now, history will be made whichever way the ball bounces in the

Philippines-Jordan finale.

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