TIM Cone may have stretched his record for most PBA career titles won to 21 after Ginebra’s conquest in the 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, but over his last nine triumphs, one person has been a constant: Joe Devance.
It’s an interesting footnote to a legendary career, but what is it really that sets Devance apart from the other players Cone has handled?
“It’s a number of things,” the two-time grand slam-winning coach said. “He’s a perfect fit for the system that we do. He’s versatile and you can use him in so many ways, as a guard, as a forward, as a center, offensively or defensively.
"We developed a lot of schemes through the years that we could take advantage of because of his versatility.”
Devance is an old reliable that Cone is thankful to have. From being the top pick of the 2007 PBA draft, he has blossomed into one of the most excellent role players in the league today.
No wonder JDV has become a vital cog in Cone’s success in his latter days with Alaska, to B-Meg/ San Mig Coffee, to now in Ginebra.
“He sets the culture for us as well and he’s been like that since his Alaska days,” Cone said.
Cone had high expectations the moment the Aces got Devance from Rain or Shine back in 2008, seeing the Fil-Am forward as a Swiss army knife he knew he could bank on in the long run. He was right.
“When I saw him, I felt like he’s our Lamar Odom,” he said, expecting Devance to emulate what the multi-skilled forward did for the Los Angeles Lakers back in the late 2000s.
“Remember, we traded for him for his best friend Sol Mercado. We had Sol for one practice and we traded him because we had Willie Miller on our team at that time, and Sol kind of duplicated what Willie did.
"We also needed a big guy and we heard that he was available. We felt we had a good chance to get somebody who can impact us and as soon as we got him on our team, we told him we wanted him to be a ball-handler, play out front in our triangle and he was super kilig about that and he was ganado and kind of turned him on.”
It was a match made in heaven between Cone and Devance, with the latter willingly embracing the role given him by the former, one that has led them to numerous success in the stops they had together.
“I was always looking for my Scottie Pippen, Lamar Odom type of player throughout my whole career and he’s just been magnificent. We had a shared vision on how he should play. That got him excited and got me excited that I got that guy I wanted to fill that spot,” said Cone. “We never saw him as just being a pure power forward type of player and he always fit really well on my vision.”
But for Cone, Devance turned out to be so much more.
“He’s become much more than Lamar Odom. He elevated his game beyond what Lamar Odom can do,” he said. “What he can do on the basketball court, that’s just a small part of it. His personality, his ability to get along with teammates, he’s probably the friendliest guy on our team. He’s also the most sacrificial.”
Cone took exception to how Devance held himself this past conference on the Gin Kings’ drive to the title.
Coming off foot surgery, the 36-year-old forward bucked the pain to contribute in the spot minutes given him in the eliminations – a quality which his teammates emulated as the conference went.
And what better way for those traits to arise than when the lights are at their brightest, with Ginebra’s twin tower combo of Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar imbibing Devance’s traits.
“He’ll play through injuries and he don’t care if he scores. Just an example in the last series, he took on Renaldo Balkman and guarded him the whole series and he never searches for credits. He brings that culture to the team, that as a veteran now that for the young guys like Greg and Japeth, they see Joe and what he’s doing and he infects them and brings them that kind of culture,” said Cone.
“Now, Japeth tried to play through his injury in the Finals. He might’ve not done that early in his career. And Greg was watching the role that Joe plays which isn’t looking for credit, and Greg kinda fell on that as well. It’s really on multiple levels in terms of his contributions to the team.
Devance’s averages of 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in the recent championship conquest may not pop out immediately, but for Cone, it’s the intangibles that Devance brings which makes the Fil-Am forward one of a kind - and elevates Ginebra from a contender to a champion in the process.
“I just think that a guy like Joe is a guy that separates an average team to a great team, one that makes you go from good to great,” testified Cone, saying that any team hoping to contend would love to have a player like Devance.
“I don’t think that it’s very hard to find a guy like him who could sacrifice and still impact your team in positive ways. He’s not the perfect player by any means. He has his faults, but he knows through his huge basketball IQ how to play through his tricks and I think that’s absolutely what makes him unique. Again, he takes us from being good to great and any team, if they want to get to that level, could find a guy like that.”