MANILA, Philippines -- For Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, the Philippine national team program has been held back by a lack of continuity.
Cone coached the Philippines Centennial Team that competed in the 1998 Asian Games, finishing with a bronze medal. Over 20 years later, he coached the Gilas Pilipinas squad that dominated the 2019 Southeast Asian Games en route to a gold medal on home soil.
When he took over the Gilas post on an interim basis ahead of the SEA Games, Cone said he looked back at the national team's history for the past two decades to see what worked and what didn't.
"It was difficult because there was no continuity," Cone said during a wide-ranging discussion on the "Coaches Unfiltered" podcast.
"That, to me, is the biggest lack we've had in our national program. It's the lack of continuity," he said.
He noted that the national team has gone through a who's who of coaches over the years -- from Robert Jaworski to Cone, to Jong Uichico and then Norman Black and Yeng Guiao, before Rajko Toroman took over the first iteration of the Smart Gilas program. Chot Reyes would later call the shots for the team that won silver in 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and competed in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, before giving way to Tab Baldwin in 2015 and 2016.
Reyes again took over, only to be replaced by Guiao in 2018. The fiery coach resigned at the end of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and the national team has yet to name a long-term coach since then. Cone coached only for the SEA Games, and TNT consultant Mark Dickel was in charge for the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
"You can just see the difference," said Cone. "Every one of those coaches are completely different. We all run different systems, everyone of us."
For Cone, it's no surprise that the national team coaches that have had the most success are the ones who spent the longest time with the squad and were given time to compete in various tournaments before taking part in major competitions such as the Asian Games or the FIBA Asia Championship.
"Rajko had some good success, and he developed that program and developed that team because he went to multiple tournaments and had multiple wins and losses, and it went on for a while," said Cone.
"Chot Reyes brought the national team in the world championships… he played maybe five or six tournaments together prior to that, you know," he added. "They lost and won and lost and won, and he had a lot of experience going to the world championship, and it culminated in the world championship."
The Ginebra coach acknowledged that the national team does not exist in a vacuum: the program has to deal with several different teams, the Philippine Basketball Association as a whole, and even the collegiate leagues as well.
For Cone, however, Gilas Pilipinas needs a certain degree of continuity if it hopes to reach another level of success.
"The worst thing is to play one tournament, and say 'ugh we failed', you know… 'we were bulok.' It's time to change the culture, it's time to change the system, and now we go on to the next one, and we're doing the same thing again," he said.
"So that has been my big issue with the national team -- we're not allowing teams to grow and get better," he stressed.
Rather than making swift changes -- to the coaching, to the system, to the culture -- Cone bats instead for continuity.
"How does our system, how does our coaching, how does our philosophy, how does our relationships with the players, how does that continue? And that is to me the big question that needs to be answered by the national team," he said.
"And once you figured out how to do that and attack that, then I think our national teams become a force, especially in Asia, and maybe even in the international arena in Europe and the rest of the world. I really do believe that," he added.
Cone stressed that he does not know all the answers to all these questions, and that different coaches will have different responses. Nonetheless, he believes that if the national team program can gain some sort of continuity, it will go a long way towards elevating the country's status in the international arena.
It may help solve the long-running problem that has hounded national teams again and again in the past few years -- the lack of preparation for tournaments.
"We use that term a lot -- that we don't prepare," said Cone. "If you keep a team continuously over the years, that's preparation in itself."
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