Call it the lull before the storm, Jordan’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hugging Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone, Justin Brownlee and TNT Tropang Giga teammate Calvin Oftana when they ran across each other at a training facility in the 19th Asian Games last Wednesday.
Even the TNT utility guy doubling for the national team got a warm embrace from the inherently friendly Hollis-Jefferson, whose Jordanian squad will face Gilas Pilipinas on Saturday, September 30, for an outright berth in the quarterfinals.
Game time is at 5:30 p.m. at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium, with the encounter expected to be anything but cordial.
The Philippine team had just concluded a one and a half hour practice for the game against Thailand on Thursday and was on its way to the third floor elevator when Jordan’s top player showed up smiling broadly and started throwing high fives all around.
Apparently, the Jordanians were also having team practice at an adjacent playing court in preparation for their game against Bahrain the next day, and Hollis-Jefferson seized the chance to catch up with familiar faces.
There wouldn’t be much of that pleasantry in their next meeting, though, with both teams looking to sweep Group C of the preliminaries and move on, avoiding any disastrous detours in the event of a loss.
The Philippines and Jordan arranged the all-important clash between two unbeaten teams after they each dispatched their first two opponents, Bahrain and Thailand.
Nobody from Gilas, least of all Cone, is under any illusion, however, that Jordan will be a walk in the park.
“They’re gonna be tough,” said Cone after Gilas survived Thailand and a barrage of three-point shots from Tyler Lamb and Frederick Lish, 87-72.
“What can you say? They blew this team [Thais] out by 37 points, and we only beat them by what, 15 or whatever? So if you look at it that way, we don’t have much of a chance.
“But I think [if] you walk into our locker room when you talk to everyone of those guys, they think we can beat Jordan.”
Though Cone wouldn’t go to specifics, it’s almost a foregone conclusion Gilas’ defensive strategy on Saturday would cover a big percentage of Hollis-Jefferson’s offense.
“We’re gonna try to put a big performance together and go out and play Jordan,” he said.
PBA fans may well remember Hollis-Jefferson for snaring the Best Import award over Brownlee in the Governors’ Cup last April, and for his 29 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists performance as TNT beat Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in Game Six, 97-93, for the championship.
Hollis-Jefferson, who had NBA stints with Portland, Toronto and Brooklyn, iced his superb play by hitting two pressure free throws in the dying seconds that secured the victory.
He also showed great magnanimity by paying tribute to Brownlee, who valiantly battled the ill effects of severe food poisoning which landed him in the hospital after Game Five.
Brownlee had 29 points in Game Six.
Their rematch on foreign soil should provide a dramatic subplot when their national teams meet for a shot at the quarters, and an interesting preview of their forthcoming duels back home, five weeks before the new PBA season opens.