It has been almost a decade, but coach Mike Dunlap has never forgotten about Justin Brownlee.
The veteran tactician worked with a young Brownlee during their time together in St. John’s University, where they went to the second round of the US NCAA tournament in 2011.
“Very well. Yeah, I know Justin,” Dunlap said when asked about Brownlee in the Hoop Coaches International Webinar hosted by Blackwater alternate governor and consultant Ariel Vanguardia.
Dunlap came to the Red Storm program in 2010 following a stint with the University of Oregon. And there he met Brownlee, who had transferred to St. John’s from Chipola College in 2009.
Brownlee suited up for St. John’s until 2011 before turning pro. Meanwhile, Dunlap stayed until 2012 before becoming the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA in a stint that lasted a season.
For Dunlap, the Brownlee he had seen then was smart and versatile, and had the potential to become even better.
“Smart. Versatile. Really smart, could score naturally. The unrealized potential at that time, I mean, he had a higher ceiling, he was gonna get better,” recalled the former Denver Nuggets assistant coach.
“He was one of those guys that were positionless before positionless became a fashionable word.”
Brownlee has clearly become what Dunlap had envisioned he would be. He’s among the best imports in the PBA today, having won four championships with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
He won his first title by lifting the Gin Kings to the 2016 Governors’ Cup crown — big thanks to his game-winning triple at the buzzer in Game 6 to finish off Allen Durham and the Meralco Bolts.
For Ginebra’s legions of fans, that shot will always be remembered for ending the franchise’s eight-year title drought.
His stint in Asia’s pioneering pro league also saw him earn Best Import honors in the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup, becoming the shortest import at 6-foot-4 and 5/8 inches to achieve the feat.
But it’s not just in the PBA that the forward from Tifton, Georgia has made a mark. In 2018, he helped San Miguel Alab Pilipinas claim its first-ever ASEAN Basketball League championship.
Then in 2019, before returning to the Barangay for the Commissioner’s Cup, he helped Sporting Al-Riyadi Beirut — one of the top ball clubs in Asia — claim the Lebanese Basketball League crown.
“He had a knack… The thing about pro-level, whether it’s the Philippines, the NBA, or Australia, or Euroball, is that when the money is on the line, you need guys that can score,” said Dunlap.
“And, Justin was one of those guys that you didn’t have to diagram a play, and all of a sudden, he would do something where you went ‘Oh my god’. And he was one of the guys.”
But besides what he is as a player, it is also Brownlee’s personality that has stuck with Dunlap.
“He’s a good teammate. Guys in the locker room liked Justin,” the 62-year-old said.
“He never had a bite to him, he just knew how to go along to get along with people. So I like that about him.”