MANILA, Philippines -- In welcome news for fans of Barangay Ginebra, their celebrated import Justin Brownlee joined the team in practice on Saturday morning.
Veteran forward Joe Devance posted a video of Brownlee in full Ginebra uniform, jokingly noting that the import was "a month late."
It has not been easy for PBA teams to get their reinforcements into the country given existing restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. All imports must be fully vaccinated to play in the upcoming Governors' Cup, aside from fulfilling their quarantine requirements.
Speaking on "The Chasedown" on Saturday, PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial stressed that there was no special treatment for the imports, as they all had to undergo quarantine.
Having Brownlee back is a huge boost to a Ginebra team that is itching to bounce back from a subpar campaign in the recent Philippine Cup.
Favored to defend their title, Ginebra instead suffered an early exit in the quarterfinals against eventual champions TNT Tropang GIGA, with injuries to key players severely impacting their campaign.
"Our import is special," Ginebra coach Tim Cone said in a recent interview with former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala on "Power and Play." "People bring back imports, we bring back Justin. It's a big difference. Justin is not like every other import."
Brownlee, 33, kept himself active in the past year by playing in "smaller leagues" in the United States, Cone said. They expect him to be in good shape when he reports to the team.
With Brownlee in the fold, Cone is hopeful that they can maximize the skills and talent of Fil-German big man Christian Standhardinger, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade with NorthPort in the offseason.
Standhardinger put up solid numbers in his first conference in Ginebra, averaging 14.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. However, Cone admits that they were unable to fully maximize Standhardinger's capabilities, due in part to their injury woes in the Philippine Cup.
"He's a round peg, and we tried to put him in a square hole. Because we lost Japeth (Aguilar), we lost Scottie (Thompson), so we were looking for scorers at the time, and we were looking for an inside presence," he explained.
"Now that he has Justin with him and we have a healthy group around him, I think he'll be able to play the role that best suits him. And, I think that he'll be a much, much better fit with someone like Justin around to take the scoring off of Christian," he added.
Brownlee led Barangay Ginebra to the Governors' Cup title in 2016, 2017 and 2019, as well as the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup championship. He was the Best Import in the 2018 Commissioner's Cup as well.
The Governors' Cup will start on Dec. 8; Ginebra opens its campaign on Dec. 12 against Alaska.