Only a handful of people in Philippine basketball are more likable than Justin Brownlee.
To be fair, that’s what winning six PBA championships with the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, the league’s most popular team, can do and all signs continue to point to another one at season’s end.
But Brownlee’s PBA exploits are not the subject for discussion right now as over the weekend, the naturalized forward finally made his debut for the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team during the sixth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Brownlee led all scorers with 17 points (on 50 percent shooting from the field), setting the tone early with his two early 3-pointers in Gilas Pilipinas’ 107-96 win over Lebanon. Gilas’ hot shooting opened things up for Brownlee and co. inside, as nifty scores in the paint were made possible by corner 3-pointers that kept the Lebanon defense guessing.
Gilas Pilipinas closed out the qualifying window with a 91-90 loss to Jordan, but they wouldn’t have even gotten that close if not for Brownlee.
The former Maine Red Claw and Erie Bayhawk was responsible for half of Gilas’ total output, pouring in a game-high 41 points and dishing out three assists. In fact, Brownlee outscored Jordan in the third quarter, 17-10, sparking a run that had shades of the GIn Kings’ never-say-die attitude.
With Brownlee, you can tell there’s a certain level of comfort his Gilas Pilipinas teammates have knowing they have someone to rely on when it comes to a quick bucket inside or one who can help keep the ball moving toward the best shot possible.
Stability and playing the right way are simply what Gilas is asking from Brownlee and if that requires a 30-point performance in one game and a quiet double-double in another, then so be it. He knows what to do and where to be at a given point in time, and of course, that comes with having him be a regular fixture in Gilas Pilipinas’ practices.
Moreover, Gilas is also at the point where a naturalized big man isn’t required, given that the Philippines now has the likes of big men Kai Sotto, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Carl Tamayo, Raymond Almazan, Kelly Williams, and now Mason Amos to fill in that role. Brownlee has already played with (and against) most of them, whether it was with the Gin Kings or with Gilas Pilipinas.
Of course, there were some areas to improve on, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Part of that was because Brownlee had to do a little bit of everything given Gilas’ depleted front court. The 34-year old has also gotten only a few practices with Gilas Pilipinas under his belt so more time with his teammates and the Gilas coaching staff should sharpen him, and in turn, the rest of the squad for the road ahead.
Nonetheless, the overall performance Brownlee put on and the buildup towards that sparked conversations of his inclusion to the final roster for the 2023 FIBA World Cup. However, it seems that the Chot Reyes and the rest of the decision-makers for Gilas continue to be set with fielding Jordan Clarkson as the Philippines’ naturalized player.
One can’t blame them as international teams perhaps aside from the USA can’t pass on a player of Clarkson’s caliber, especially in major international competitions. His ability to create, score, and pretty much do things at a frenetic pace is something that appeals to Gilas Pilipinas, especially when they want to go quick.
Clarkson had already signified his intention to join Gilas for the 2023 FIBA World Cup and all signs continue to point to the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year being ready and able to suit up for the Philippines in August. Should that change, Brownlee is definitely waiting in the wings and ready to step up.
In the meantime, Brownlee will definitely be on board when the Philippines tries to atone for its disappointing silver-medal finish in the 2021 SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam when Gilas Pilipinas heads to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the 2023 edition of the regional event. Basketball in Southeast Asia has gotten better and Gilas would be wise to bring in Brownlee so as to put their best foot forward in the unofficial national sport of the Philippines.
It seems things have come full circle for Justin Brownlee, who has pretty much forged a career and found a home with the Philippines. There’s never been questions with his effort nor the results (see six PBA titles), and while the demands of the national team will definitely be different, best believe that Brownlee will leave no stone unturned for his newfound flag and country.