Joe Devance and head coach Tim Cone have been in this situation before, where their team is still trying to figure out a lot of aspects of their game.
There had been flashes of brilliance for Barangay Ginebra, as well as a good amount of lows. But the two understand that going through pains is part of the long-term process to transform Ginebra into a stronger, more legitimate contender since Cone had arrived. It’s not the first time they have done this phase together.
“We’re taking it day by day trying to really understand the process it takes to win. We did get better the first time we came here, but we are not good enough yet to compete in the finals or win a championship. But I have no doubt if we keep on just being open to learning and understanding the process, we will be there. We have to keep on going,” Devance said Sunday after Ginebra defeated Rain or Shine, 103-92 for their first win in the Commissioner’s Cup.
Bringing Cone to Ginebra was a bold move, and a right one. The winningest head coach in the league, Cone never backed down from challenges. And like how he has always handled teams, the mentor is putting premium on the long-term.
And it starts with the little things.
“We are playing with good effort. I cannot complain about our effort. We are still in the stage of trying to break habits and build new habits, mostly little things on defense. We are trying to change that philosophy and culture a little bit. That constant awareness defense is our thing. It’s got to be their thing as well. Those are the things we are still struggling with,” Cone said.
In the Philippine Cup, Ginebra became one of the best defensive teams in the league. They operated with low pace and forced opponents to play their style. Often, they would triumph, although against better, well-organized super teams, they fell. But it’s understandable; what is vital right now is progress, and getting better in each game.
Their campaign last conference was already an improvement from the previous editions of the Philippine Cup, and the only direction Ginebra should go to is up.
“We played 15 games together and that is not even a fourth of the season in the NBA,” Cone said of his tenure with Ginebra. “There is still a lot of growing we have to do. I know there is a rush from everybody about us being good right now but I really feel this is a process. I think eventually we will make our fans very proud.”
Ginebra did show better effort against the Elasto Painters. They were +10 in rebounding, +12 in points in the paint, +4 in assists, and +4 in second chance points. Developing such habits would mean a world of differences for the team in the long run, and it is just the beginning.
“I just think our effort was there today. We played together on offense. We played together on defense. We had each other’s back. And that’s really what it kind of boils down to. We have to understand what it takes as a team to win. Not as individuals. As a team. That’s what we did,” Devance said Sunday.
“I don’t know what it is but we always do start slow. Our whole thing is as long as we put ourselves in a situation in the end where we have a chance (to win it). We don’t base it on how we start but on how we finish. So the goal is to learn as a team and coach Tim’s philosophies. Once we get there, we will be pretty good.”
Looking ahead, Cone foresees even more struggles that will come Ginebra’s way. And it’s all natural. What he wants is for the team to grow and arrive to a point where they are going to be considered one of the best.
He believes in his team, and he believes there is a lot more to accomplish in the future.
“We will struggle and try to figure out ways to win. If we follow it this way and the process and with the players that we have, we can be one of the top-echelon teams in the league, no doubt. We can be competing in championships every conference. That’s the goal,” Cone said.
“It’s the second conference together but we have a lot of growing still.”