It took Tim Cone to finally unlock the potential of the talent-laden team that is Barangay Ginebra. Last week, the Gin Kings snapped an eight-year title drought in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) with a thrilling 91-88 victory over the Meralco Bolts in Game Six of their best-of-seven finals series. American import Justin Browlee made good a buzzer-beating triple to bring the house down at the Smart Araneta Coliseum that saw over 22,000 fans, mostly Ginebra supporters, whoop it up in jubilation. It was indeed a long wait for the country’s most popular basketball squad. Its millions of die-hard followers waited for this moment that they last witnessed in 2008, under then coach Jong Uichico.
Cone, the winningest hoops mentor in the PBA with 19 titles, needed three conferences to put Ginebra on top. Since Uichico, four other coaches—Alfrancis Chua (now team manager), Ato Agustin, Jeffrey Cariaso and Frankie Lim—tried to bring the Barangay to the Promised Land but fell short. Even Cone struggled in the beginning to find the right chemistry in a mixture of aging superstars and promising young blood. But Cone commanded respect and everyone followed his lead. More importantly, he made the necessary adjustments to fit the Kings’ strengths. While still applying his notable Triangle Offense system, Cone came up with new designs that suited his team more. Now we are all witness to his handiwork.
It wasn’t smooth sailing at all for the Gin Kings this conference. Even when the great progress was evident, they had to overcome tremendous odds to end the long dry spell.
Ginebra’s towering 7’0” center Greg Slaughter tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his right kneeearlier this conference, forcing Cone to be creative with the Kings’ inside game. But his crew certainly passed the test after surviving league MVP Jun Mar Fajardo and sister team San Miguel Beer in the best-of-five semis. Fajardo, unquestionably the best player in the country today, is a hulking 6’10” beast inside the paint. Still, Ginebra found ways to shackle him and come out with the shocking upset.
Now that the Gin Kings have broken the spell, Cone is confident that this won’t be a one-hit wonder. He is no stranger to successive championships being a two-time Grand Slam champion coach (three straight crowns) in the PBA for Alaska in 1996, and Purefoods in 2014. And he has the ingredients to cook up a Ginebra dynasty. Long-time superstars Jayjay Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa are looking to play one more season for the Kings. And so are the other big name veterans in the team, like LA Tenorio, who had an incredible stint throughout the playoffs, Sol Mercado, who seemed to have found a home with Ginebra, and the very reliable Joe Devance, who transferred with Cone from Purefoods. But even more formidable is the Kings’ youth brigade, headed by the vastly improved former Gilas campaigner Japeth Aguilar, and outstanding rookie Scottie Thompson, a former NCAA MVP. Let’s not forget the likes of Chris Ellis, Dave Marcelo, Jervy Cruz, Aljon Mariano and Nico Salva. Slaughter will be back in six months too. No wonder Cone wants to keep this same roster for a very long time.
Could this be the beginning of a Ginebra dynasty in the PBA? Cone vows that more titles will come the Gin Kings’ way. And everybody believes him.
Meanwhile, over this past week some major coaching changes were announced. We welcome the return of Chot Reyes to the Gilas Pilipinas program as head coach once again, replacing Tab Baldwin. This is Chot’s third tour of duty with the National Team. He should be credited for bringing the country back to the FIBA World Championship in 2014 after a runner-up finish in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship here in Manila. With a lot of time to prepare for the 2019 Olympic qualifiers, there’s no doubt he can do another stellar job. Baldwin will remain with Gilas as consultant, while handling Ateneo’s coaching chores. Meanwhile, Far Eastern University coach Nash Racela was also recently named new Talk N’ Text head mentor, replacing Uichico. Nash is surely ready for this task. Kudos to Chot and Nash, who are both deserving of their new posts.