AFTER making the 12-man lineup of Gilas Pilipinas for the 2019 Fiba World Cup, Mark Barroca is excited to play in the pinnacle of world basketball.
He's also looking to complete unfinished business.
Barroca is thrilled to get a chance to play in the World Cup stage as part of the national team, eight years after the original Smart Gilas side coached by Rajko Toroman fell short of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.
“Malaki,” said Barroca when asked how big an achievement it was of making the World Cup roster. “Kasi di ba ‘yung Gilas 1.0, (ang goal ay) qualify to Olympics. Hindi kami naka-qualify. Ngayon, naka-qualify sa Fiba World."
Barroca, 33, considers the World Cup as his shot at redemption after being part of the Gilas team that finished fourth in the 2011 Fiba Asia Championship in China - two wins short of qualifying for the London Games.
"Malaking achievement sa career ko sa Gilas kasi nga 'noong Gilas 1.0 kami, hindi kami nakapasok. Dun natapos ‘yung Gilas namin noon. Ngayon nabigyan ako ng chance na maka-represent sa World Cup,” the Magnolia guard said.
Barroca and Japeth Aguilar are the only remnants of that Toroman team that are still part of the current side. But unlike Barroca, Aguilar has already made the World Cup stage before back in 2014 in Seville, Spain. Marcio Lassiter was also part of that original Gilas side but missed the boat this time owing to injury.
Barroca remembers Gilas 1.0's shattered Olympic dream like it was yesterday.
Needing just a win to reach the Fiba- Asia finals and gain a shot at the lone berth for Asia in the London Games, Smart Gilas were stunned by Jordan, 75-61, just a few days after beating this same Jordan side in the second round, 72-64.
That Jordan squad was then coached by Tab Baldwin, who, ironically, would take over the Gilas Pilipinas reins several years later.
“’Yun ‘yung sobrang frustration namin nun. Parang kaya namin mapunta sa finals nun eh. Tinalo kami ng Jordan, sobrang sakit nun," Barroca recalled. "‘Yung Jordan, nung time na ‘yun kayang kaya namin kasi buong liga namin, kalaban namin Jordan hindi kami tinalo."
"Sobrang galing lang talaga ni coach Tab nung time na ‘yun na nakapag-adjust siya. Na-scout kami ng maayos,” he added.
Barroca admitted Smart Gilas celebrated way too early, after learning that Jordan beat defending champion Iran, 88-84, in the quarterfinals to arrange a semifinal match-up against the Filipinos.
“Sobra kaming nag-celebrate nung tinalo nila Iran," he said. "Kasi dapat Iran kalaban namin nun. Tinalo nila Iran, sobrang saya namin. Akala namin. Ayun, talo kami."
Barroca admitted he never thought he would get another opportunity to don the national colors again. But in the event that he would, the PBA veteran promised to himself that he would never pass it up.
“Marami na ring players eh. Siguro binigyan talaga ng chance, na-bless ako na makasama dito," Barroca said.
"Hindi ko inisip na masasama ako sa lineup. Sabi ko lang na once tinawag uli ako, ibibigay ko ‘yung best ko kung ano matutulong ko sa team at sa sakripisyo na kailangan gawin para makatulong. Nagpapasalamat din ako."
The former Far Eastern University star is even looking beyond the World Cup, hoping he can still realize his Olympic dream via the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
That, however, figures to be a difficult task for Gilas. With Japan as host, only one Olympic spot for Asia is at stake in the World Cup, with other teams having to go through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2020.
But he's not giving up.
“Oo. Sabi ko nga, mabigyan ng chance, kapag number one tayo sa Asia, puwede tayo mag-qualify sa Olympics. Sana maka-isa pa tayo doon,” said Barroca. “Gusto ko pa nga maglaro ngayon, itong darating na SEA Games para makumpleto ko lang. Hindi pa ako nakakalaro diyan tapos dito pa sa Pilipinas gagawin.”