Gilas’ Cinderella Run Inspires Strong Group Athletics Ahead of Jones Cup

With Gilas Pilipinas hitting their marks on the international stage, other basketball players are inspired to strive for the same.

While Gilas Pilipinas fought to secure a spot in the semifinals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Latvia, Strong Group Athletics (SGA) watched with pride from afar.

The national team’s unexpected success has not only captivated basketball fans across the Philippines but has also inspired fellow athletes who are preparing for their own international competitions, such as the players in SGA, who are currently gearing up for the Jones Cup taking place from July 13 to 21.

Raising the bar

Ange Kouame, currently training with Strong Group Athletics for the upcoming William Jones Cup, expressed unwavering confidence in Gilas’ potential. “I knew from the beginning that they were going to have success,” Kouame told The GAME.

His faith stems from firsthand experience with head coach Tim Cone’s leadership and the squad’s collective talent. “I know how true a coach Tim Cone is. He’s a great coach,” Kouame added. “The way he put the team together and pushed them to a certain level. That’s what I’ve been seeing since I played for them.”

Gilas Pilipinas has indeed surpassed expectations in Latvia, stunning the basketball world with an upset victory over the sixth-ranked host nation before securing their semifinal berth despite a narrow loss to Georgia.

The team’s resilience and adaptability have been on full display, embodying the very qualities Kouame highlighted.

Dave Ildefonso, who has previously been part of the national team program, also shared his pride and admiration for the current Gilas squad. “I’m really proud of the guys,” he said.

“Because I saw where the program was before and where it is now. And what they’ve accomplished right now goes to show that the hard work of the SBP group, all the coaching staff, and all the players is coming to fruition.”

Going above and beyond

The 24-year-old forward sees Gilas Pilipinas’ success as a motivating factor for SGA’s upcoming Jones Cup campaign. “Syempre nakaka-motivate rin kasi ang sama naman tignan kung nananalo ‘yung Gilas tapos ‘yung isang nagre-represent din ng Philippines talunan,” Ildefonso remarked. “We want to emulate the success of Gilas, and hopefully surpass it in the upcoming Jones Cup.”

Jordan Heading, another key player for Strong Group Athletics preparing for the Jones Cup, also expressed amazement at Gilas Pilipinas’ performance, particularly their victory over Latvia.

He noted that while the win was incredible, it wasn’t entirely surprising, given the team’s talent, chemistry, and coaching. He emphasized his belief in the squad’s capabilities and potential for success in the tournament.

(Photo credit: SGA on Facebook)

Heading, who has also previously represented the Philippines in international competitions, expressed admiration for his former teammates’ performances, particularly Justin Brownlee’s standout play. “We all know what Justin can do. And Justin went out and did that in both games, and he’s going to continue to do that. And that’s why he’s Justin,” he said.

As SGA prepares for the 43rd William Jones Cup, set to begin on July 13 in New Taipei City, Heading sees Gilas’ success as a significant motivator. “If we can take the momentum they’ve built and work off it in any way, we can help the Filipinos in Taiwan feel that national pride as well,” he emphasized.

Coach Rajko Toroman, who laid the foundation for the Gilas program over a decade ago, likewise expressed his admiration for the team’s performance in Latvia. He pointed to recent friendly matches as indicators of the team’s improved competitiveness against European teams. 

He attributed Gilas’ success to several factors, including the addition of Justin Brownlee to the roster, who has “jelled the team” and knows Coach Cone’s system well.

Not done yet

While Toroman remains cautiously optimistic about Gilas’ chances in the upcoming semi-final bout against Brazil and a potential final against Latvia, he acknowledges the challenges ahead. 

However, he remains excited about Gilas’ prospects, adding, “But a great performance from Gilas. Exciting for everybody here. You know, there is still a chance for the final.”

As Gilas Pilipinas continues its quest for an Olympic berth, the team’s unexpected success in Latvia has reignited hope and pride in Philippine basketball.

With the support of veterans and players alike, Gilas stands on the brink of a historic achievement, potentially securing a spot in the Olympics for the first time in over five decades.

Their journey serves as an inspiration not only to SGA but to basketball players and fans across the nation, demonstrating the power of determination, teamwork, and national pride on the international stage.

Banner images from SGA on Facebook.

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