Gilas Pilipinas

Gilas Pilipinas' naturalized center Justin Brownlee makes a stellar Gilas Pilipinas debut. –FIBA BASKETBALL

Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized center Justin Brownlee makes a stellar Gilas Pilipinas debut. –FIBA BASKETBALL

BOCAUE, Bulacan — Justin Brownlee made an immediate impact in his first Gilas Pilipinas game as he showed the way in their 107-96 win over Lebanon in the Fiba World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers on Friday at Philippine Arena.

Barangay Ginebra’s resident import sank back-to-back three-pointers as his first baskets as a naturalized Filipino to give Gilas a 14-8 lead with 6:05 remaining in the first quarter.

“As a player, you always wanna come out and establish a rhythm. Just seeing those two shots going in, I think it put me in a good rhythm, it got me comfortable throughout the rest of the game,” said Brownlee shortly after his first game in the Asian Qualifiers.

But the 34-year-old admitted he lost a little bit of his rhythm after splitting his first two free throw attempts.

“And then I missed my free throws. That knocked me off my rhythm a little bit,” he said with laughter.

But thanks to his teammates, Brownlee was quick to regain his groove. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half, where the Filipinos led 53-41, before Jamie Malonzo, Mason Amos, Ray Parks Jr., and Jordan Heading kept the momentum going to extend Gilas’ winning streak to four games in the qualifiers.

“Luckily, everybody played very well. We played together, and somebody may have been slacking a little bit like coach said, we depend on each other,” he said. “We picked that guy up, or if it was me, guys picked me up. So, just luckily, to get off to a good start and take it home throughout the game.”

Brownlee also tallied five assists, four rebounds, and two steals in 29 minutes and 30 seconds of play.

The three-time PBA Best Import also relished playing in front of 19,829 fans, who cheered for him not as a Gin King but as a Gilas player.

“When you make a shot, the crowd gets going. The Filipino fans, they really appreciate basketball, and that’s what I really appreciate as well, too,” Brownlee said. “Just making those shots, starting off hot. Coach told me to be aggressive, and I wanted to get the team off to a good start.”

The 6-foot-6 winger also attributed his successful debut to national team coach Chot Reyes.

“Being one of the older guys and one of the leaders, I just felt like it was important right off the jump, we need to be aggressive, and we have that mentality,” he said. “Coach put it on the board, so you know, a lot of credit to him. But I just wanna continue being aggressive, and you know, making the fans happy and giving them something to cheer about.”

Brownlee had a great time wearing the Gilas jersey for the first time and he is eager to continue representing and bringing pride to the country.

“It’s very special. Just coming to play here with Gilas has been so much joy. I’m just very blessed and lucky to be a part of the team, part of the naturalization and everything,” Brownlee said. “It’s just an honor to be able to put the Philippines on my chest and play for the flag. The Philippines shows so much love to me, and I just wanna do my best and do whatever I can to try to give some of it back.”

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