JONG Uichico is making up for lost time.
Given a chance to reprise his old role as deputy coach of Gilas Pilipinas, Uichico said he’s looking forward to working with head coach Tim Cone in the country’s coming campaign in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Uichico was named to Cone’s coaching staff for the biennial meet, along with Jimmy Alapag and the Barangay Ginebra coach’s regular staff of Richard Del Rosario, Freddie Abuda, Kirk Collier, and loyal veteran Joe Devance.
But of the lot, Uichico has the most experience as far as coaching is concerned, both in the PBA and in international competitions.
“At least I’m given the opportunity again. Kaya malaking pasasalamat ko na nabigyan ng pagkakataon ulit,” he said. “Hopefully magtuluy-tuloy (na). Kung hindi naman, at least nabigyan ako ng bagong buhay kumbaga after that incident.”
The incident Uichico’s referring was the infamous brawl between Gilas Pilipinas and Australia that marred their FIBA World Cup qualifier last year at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
The 57-year-old champion coach was meted a three-game suspension by FIBA for his role in what many considers as one of the worse basketball brawls in international competitions.
He later found himself out of the national team – along with head coach Chot Reyes – when the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) opted for a fresh start and appointed Yeng Guiao as the new man at the helm of Gilas.
Following the incident, Uichico admitted having self-doubt if he’ll still be able to serve the national team again.
“Maski ako nagtatanong kung makakabalik pa kaya ako,” he said. “That’s why I do other endeavors dahil hindi ko naman alam kung makakabalik ako.”
The chance came when Cone was appointed to call the shots for Gilas in the SEA Games, with Uichico the man nominated by the SBP to become part of Cone’s staff.
“It feels good to be back representing the national team,” said Uichico, who is grateful to SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan, SBP president Al S. Panlilio, PBA board adviser Ricky Vargas, and Cone himself for the new lease on life.
He also felt honored working hand-in-hand for the first time with Cone, his longtime rival who’s currently the most successful coach in PBA history.
“We coached against each other, ngayon magkasama na kami,” said Uichico, who was also the head coach of the all-pro Philippine team in the 2002 Asian Games.
At the moment, Uichico said he’s still feeling his way in Cone’s system as the Gilas 15-man training pool had only practiced together just once.
“Nakikiramdam lang muna. I just want to see how he runs practice,” he said of Cone.
But Uichico definitely has a lot to bring to the table as far as international experience is concerned, having steered the country to two gold medals in the last three stagings of the SEA Games, including the 2017 edition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“Offer lang ng tulong. Alam mo naman tayo, gusto ko ang national team. Always honored and always happy to represent the national team,” he said.