Mentor vs. Mentee


TIM CONE and Jojo Lastimosa shared so many years together as coach and player at Alaska where they won nine championships together highlighted with a grand slam in 1996.

Now they’re on opposite sides of the court with Lastimosa coaching TNT against Cone’s Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup Finals that start on Easter Sunday.

Game 1 is set at 6 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and although they’ll surely be fighting tooth and nail, animosity is the least that could shatter what used to be one of the league’s most lethal coach-player relationship.

“I’m proud of what he has done,” Cone told reporters during the pre-Finals news conference Monday at the Novotel in Cubao. “It’s the very first time…after all these years.”

If it’s “been there, done that, doing this” for Cone—who’s gotten two grand slams and a league record 25 PBA titles, Lastimosa’s a rookie calling the shots from the bench for a team that, like Ginebra, is top notch in the league.

And Cone, who had Lastimosa as his go-to guy from the time he first coached Alaska in 1989, acknowledged that his heart sort of feels a pinch.

“I don’t think I’ve never been so close to an opposition coach, not even to Chot [Reyes],” Cone told the news conference also attended by PBA Chairman and TNT governor Ricky Vargas and Commissioner Willie Marcial, as well as Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua and the key players from both protagonists.

“The history’s so intense as a player and as my assistant coach,” said Cone, who admitted he’s that close with Lastimosa, even their wives.  “It’s a close relationship although we don’t see each other most of the time.”

Both sides have at least a week to burn in practice amid Lent. Ginebra got to the Finals first by sweeping San Miguel Beer, while TNT needed four games to eliminate Meralco.

Lastimosa said there’s no pressure facing Cone not as a player, but this time as a coach.

“To be honest, I am seeing myself going up to Alaska with Tim on my side,” Lastimosa said. “I’m always comfortable with him. We’ve been together as a player and as a coach.”

“It’s like coming home,” he said. “There is no animosity between us.”

Ginebra is the defending Governors’ Cup champion and is seeking a follow up on its conquest in the Commissioner’s Cup.

Cone said the hunger to win plays a major role in the series.

“Every win is bitter sweet and there’s a lot of hunger on both teams,” he said. “Once you taste it, you want more of it and the hunger grows.”

Lastimosa said Cone has influences on his coaching principle but stressed that a player’s character comes to play over talent.

Ginebra import Justin Brownlee, Lastimosa acknowledged, is a lethal opponent, but expressed confidence his reinforcement, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, is up to the task.

“Rondae is going to be a great equalizer for us, that will be the answer to Brownlee’s magic,” Lastimosa said.

Both teams met only once this conference with TNT winning, 114-105, in the eliminations last March 16. The Gin Kings, however, are going after their 16th triumph in the Governors’ Cup, a title TNT has never won.

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