The Philippines wrote a historic chapter in their Riga’s OQT debut

2024-07-04T11:10:30+00:00 2024-07-04T14:20:26+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

04/Jul/24 11:10

Kai Sotto and Justin Brownlee was crucial to end a 64-year curse against European national teams

By Cesare Milanti /

The last time the Philippines managed to emerge victorious in an official competition against a European national team, Tim Conte was seven years old. At 66, he was one of the protagonists of the historic success his country reached in their FIBA OQT debut in Riga.

Arena Riga was ready to celebrate another success after dismantling a Tornike Shengelia-less Georgian national team, possibly going 2-0 to qualify as the 1st-seeded team in Group A, positively heading to the Semi-Finals.

Instead, the shocking upset took place in front of thousands of Latvian fans in the stands, who never stopped cheering and supporting their heroes. Gilas turned an unbelievable outcome into reality, winning 89-80 to put themselves one foot and a half into the next stage.

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Justin Brownlee’s appearance surprised everybody

Last year, Jordan Clarkson – who looked excited on social media after his team’s win – took the naturalized spot for Chot Reyes’ squad at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila, leading the Philippine national team to the latest victory over China.

The Utah Jazz‘s guard’s presence didn’t allow Justin Brownlee to be present in a big tournament which was held at home, but the 36-year-old experienced guard – who has played for ages in the Philippines – erupted for almost a triple-double with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists in the win against Latvia.

“The world doesn’t really know much about Justin Brownlee, but for me, he is the Michael Jordan of Philippines basketball”, Kai Sotto said about him after the game in the mixed zone. “That’s what we expected him to do and that is what he does every night”, he added.

“Man, it was big for us. We have a lot of respect for Latvia. It feels great, but we’re definitely not satisfied. We [are] hungry and confident moving forward”, Justin Brownlee said in the mixed zone.

Kai Sotto’s worldwide glimpse

Philippine die-hard fans have been waiting for Kai Sotto to deliver on the global stage like he has done against Latvia. Dominating in the paint in the first half, when Tim Cone’s team first created a gap to escape against the hosts, his huge impact continued to display in the last two quarters.

Playing alongside June Mar Fajardo since the very first minute, he delivered highlight plays and an unprecedented high-IQ display on the court against Luca Banchi’s squad.

At the final buzzer, where everybody on Gilas’ side was loudly celebrating this historic success, he also went close to a double-double with 18 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 7/10 FG and 3/3 FT.

In the mixed zone, right before praising the “MJ of Philippine basketball”, he touched on his team’s elite game. “We expected a great game, we know how tough Latvia is. They’re one of the top 10 teams in the world. We knew we had to bring our A-Game, giving our 100% effort”, Kai Sotto opened.

The 22-year-old also had high praise for the head coach, who replaced Chot Reyes after last year’s World Cup and has been delivering with his triangle offense. “He’s one of the greatest minds in basketball history. “He’s maybe one of the best coaches I’ve played for”, Kai Sotto also added.

Will the Philippines make it to the Semi-Finals?

So was this victory against the favorite Latvian hosts enough to make it to the Semi-Finals of the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, continuing to hope about making it to Paris?

Well, not yet. Today at 18:00 CET, Tim Cone’s national team awaits a hungry Georgia, which needs to pull it off and win by at least 19 points to qualify after badly losing to the hosts on Tuesday.

In the meantime, they could enjoy a historical achievement. 64 years later, the Asian island can finally celebrate their basketball heroes winning against a European national team. Manila is rocking right now.

PHOTO CREDIT: FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2024

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