MANILA - It was a sight that many Filipino basketball fans have dreamed of for some time now -- Justin Brownlee in a Gilas Pilipinas jersey.
The Barangay Ginebra import was invited by coach Tim Cone to join the national team's practice on Monday evening at the Meralco Gym, and Brownlee eagerly complied. He joined 13 other members of the national team pool in practice, helping them learn the intricacies of Cone's offense.
"I just wanna help them the best way I can," Brownlee said afterward. "Coach Tim invited me, and it was an honor just to be invited to practice, and being around all these talented guys."
Of the 15-man pool, only Jayson Castro and Matthew Wright did not show up, with Castro having suffered an injury that will take him out of the action for the next month, while Wright was attending to the birth of his child. June Mar Fajardo was present but did not take part after sustaining a knock in their game against Meralco yesterday.
While he did not practice with the full team, Brownlee still relished the experience of running drills with players that he usually competes against -- players like Christian Standhardinger, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and Vic Manuel.
"Playing in the PBA, playing against them, and now practicing against them, it was a special moment," he said.
"Everybody had a great attitude. Of course, we're not competing against each other here. Everybody's just trying to make each other and just being very positive," he also said.
According to Cone, Brownlee's participation is likely a one-time deal, as he needed another player to complete the 15-man pool after Castro's injury. The import is willing to go back and help Gilas again, however, should he be invited anew.
"Sure, it was fun," he said. "Just interacting with the other guys, and just learning, and help them learn because the system they're using with the Gilas is pretty much similar to what we run in Ginebra."
"So, just any type of help I can do, I'm willing to do it. Just whatever I can do," he added.
But Brownlee is also looking forward to the day when he can wear a Gilas Pilipinas jersey in a real game, not just in practice, and represent the country that has grown to love him. A bill for his naturalization has already been filed in Congress, and he is anxiously waiting for the day it will pass.
"I hope soon, sooner than later," he said when asked when he will be seen with a real Gilas jersey.
"I'm not sure right now, as far as the naturalization is going. It's just still pending, from what I heard. But I'm hoping the bill passes pretty soon," he added.