FORMER national coach Rajko Toroman said Gilas Pilipinas must put an end to its South Korea curse to reach the semifinals of the Fiba-Asia Men's Championships, which gets going on Thursday.
After a careful review of the groupings, Toroman said Gilas' road to the Final Four of the qualifier for next year's world championships in Spain will most likely go through a Korean team that has dealt the Philippines countless heartbreaks in the past.
Here's how the Serb, a veteran of the international basketball scene, sees Gilas' campaign panning out.
Starting the tournament in Group A, the Chot Reyes-coached national side must avoid any missteps in the first two rounds of the eliminations to finish in the top two places in Group E and avoid a quarterfinal showdown with either defending champion China or two-time titlist Iran.
If Gilas succeeds in doing that, it will most likely be paired in the quarterfinals with either South Korea or Kazakhstan.
Toroman is hoping it would be the Koreans, never mind if the team had dealt the Philippines a number of stinging losses from the infamous 'Busan Debacle,' when an all-pro team coached by Jong Uichico was denied a place in the 2002 Asian Games finals by a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Lee Sang Min.
And once that happens, Toroman insisted an "old" Korea team is ripe for the picking for Gilas.
“I am really thinking that it could be Kazakhstan or South Korea for the Philippines in the quarters and I pray it would be South Korea,” said the former coach of Iran's Olympic team.
“Korea is an old team. This is a five-year old team, they play at our level. It’s time to beat them,” Toroman continued. “It’s about time we avenge whatever they took from us last time and all these years. It’s time to beat them definitely.
“If we have Korea in the quarterfinals, the Filipinos should be in the semifinals."
The current Barako Bull consultant said he fears Kazakhstan more than the Koreans, never mind if Gilas had beaten a young Kazakhs side, 92-89, in a friendly arranged by the PBA and MyPhone on Friday.
“Kazakhstan is very scary. If I have a choice, I will pick Korea. The Kazakhs are working doubly good. They have a European coach, nine of his national players are playing in the same team (back home),” Toroman said.
“The Kazakhs have the size, the skills; they have an excellent point guard. They are very dangerous,” he added.
The Serbian coach said the current Gilas team is a lot stronger than the squad he led to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 Fiba-Asia championships in Wuhan, China, insisting that Reyes' lineup has a lot more "experienced and quality players."
“The Gilas we sent to Wuhan in 2011 was not 100 percent. The team had no jelling. So I think this team is much stronger (and) they had more time for preparations. They are more experienced and they have more quality players,” he said.