The Tim Cone Gilas Pilipinas era has finally begun. 

Previously, Cone was the Philippine national team head coach back in 1998 but for Gilas, it’s usually been on a per-tournament basis such as when he took over during the 2019 SEA Games and the 2023 Asian Games, both of which ended in gold medals for the Philippines. 

After that Asian Games gold medal, the interim label was finally removed (or at least until Chot Reyes comes back again for the 100th time). The first window of the 2025 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers was Cone’s first set of games as the permanent Gilas Pilipinas head coach and all things considered, it could not have gone any better. 

Hong Kong proved to be a feisty opponent, as they negated the Philippines’ 9-0 opening run and even took a 30-29 lead in the first quarter. In the second half, Gilas remained persistent with their ball movement, eventually catching fire on the way to a 94-64 victory. 

The second game of a home-and-away stand against Chinese Taipei was held in the Philippines, and Gilas Pilipinas did not disappoint those in attendance. Chinese Taipei’s hot shooting and timely second-chance points made things testy early on, but the Philippines’ depth and aggression on both ends of the floor blew the game wide open and resulted in a 106-53 Gilas obliteration of Chinese-Taipei. 


Cone’s offensive system is really one of equal opportunity, as everyone but Chris Newsome scored against Hong Kong by halftime. Everyone eventually scored in the win, with Gilas Pilipinas finishing with 33 assists, more than double the 12 Hong Kong had. Meanwhile, Sotto was clearly the focal point against Chinese-Taipei, imposing his will on offense and defense. Even so, everyone got to touch the ball because of Sotto’s vision so it was a breath of fresh air that came with the wins. 

To top it all off, Filipinos got to see a stellar Justin Brownlee performance in a national team jersey. 

Whether it’s Sotto, Justin Brownlee, or even Kevin Quiambao, it was great to see that the Philippine frontcourt kept the ball moving while providing the support to the backcourt, who juggled playmaking duties with getting to their spots to score. 

Cone was right in describing what Gilas will go through as a “process”. The rust was evident especially against Hong Kong, where missed midrange shots and blown defensive assignments (even so slightly) kept Hong Kong in the game. The turnovers were a thorn on their side and Hong Kong happily pounced on these miscues whenever they could run. Chinese-Taipei’s size disadvantage did not stop them from getting second-chance opportunities and they at times were able to use GIlas Pilipinas’ aggression to blow by and create chances. 

Thankfully, Cone and his coaching staff were able to help the Philippines navigate through those tests. By encouraging them to stick to the offensive system, the 3-pointers eventually fell against Hong Kong and in maintaining their aggression on defense, Gilas took the wind out of Hong Kong’s sails. Gilas did not put their foot off the pedal defensively against Chinese-Taipei, and so there was still an intimidation factor that worked in Gilas Pilipinas’ favor. 

Keeping this same group of players will build familiarity and that will be important as their schedule gets tougher. Getting back June Mar Fajardo and AJ Edu as soon as possible will also be critical in getting everyone up to speed before the Philippines goes deeper into their 2024 schedule.  

Cone playing his starters even with the outcome against Chinese-Taipei having been decided (and even up by as many as 54 points) was crucial in his efforts to develop good habits was something mentioned by the broadcast team and that will help shake off any rust and build pretty much everyone’s confidence. If there’s any sign of how good this team has been so far, it’s that Gilas’ opponents never held more than a one-point lead. 

On the side, though, it was great to see the likes of Quiambao and Carl Tamayo get some extra playing time. Besides, Quiambao will now resist Dubai’s advances for naturalization with the opportunities GIlas is offering at this point in time. 

Everyone will have something to say about the opening weekend of Tim Cone’s stint as the permanent head coach of Gilas Pilipinas. However, it’s best to judge his stint at a later time, even if the early returns showed some promise. 

After all, it’s the strong finishes, rather than the good starts, that will define the Philippines’ international basketball campaigns.