RAJKO Toroman’s five-year stint in Philippine basketball comes to a close this weekend as he is scheduled to fly back to his native Serbia on Saturday evening.
But he’s leaving the country very much gratified at having left an indelible imprint especially in restoring the Filipinos’ pride as one of the basketball powers in Asia.
Toroman made special mention about coaching Smart Gilas as the high point of his stay here.
They Said It!
“I will never forget the times I share with them and I’m so proud of them." - Serbian coaching consultant Rajko Toroman on Smart Gilas
“I’m very proud of my time with Gilas because after 24 years, we were able to make it back to the semifinals of the Fiba-Asia in China,” Toroman shared to Spin.ph.
Toroman steered the national team to the Final Four of the biennial meet in 2011 in Wuhan, China, marking the first time since 1987 a Philippine squad made the semis of the tournament.
“And we did it with a lot of amateur players in the team and all the troubles we had to go through,” he recalled.
Among the trouble the team had to endure during the tournament was the failure of Fil-American players Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter to suit up in the first few games of the team owing to issues regarding their citizenship.
“It was a difficult time for us as we prepared for the China tournament. And then Marcio and Chris Lutz were not able to play early,” said Toroman, who assumed the Smart Gilas coaching job in 2008 shortly after calling the shots for Iran in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“We went to all these troubles but still we lost to Korea by just two points for the bronze,” added the man who steered Iran to the 2007 Fiba-Asia men’s title.
Making the Serbian coach even prouder was seeing Smart Gilas players JV Casio of Alaska, Lassiter and Lutz of Petron, Chris Tiu of Rain or Shine, Japeth Aguilar, Mac Baracael, and Dylan Ababou of Barangay Ginebra, and spitfire San Mig Super Coffee guard Mark Barroca now making a name for themselves in the PBA.
“I believe that’s (Smart Gilas) a great team. You can see these guys play now in the PBA. A lot of them I spend a lot of time in practice everyday while with Gilas,” he said like a father talking with fondness about his children.
“I will never forget the times I share with them and I’m so proud of them.”
But it was shortly after that fourth place finish by Smart Gilas that Toroman would also see the end of his stint with the national team.
After failing to re-sign with Smart Gilas in 2012, Toroman was tapped to become active consultant of Petron in the PBA, and later with Barako Bull.
Unfortunately, his sudden removal from Barako Bull prior to the start of the pro league’s 39th season left him without a job, reducing him to a mere basketball fan as he continued to regularly watch various local leagues here.
His contract with Barako Bull won’t expire until February 2014, but management’s decision to have a `change in direction’ left him with no other choice but to amicably settle his deal with the franchise.
The 58-year-old veteran international coach said he harbors no ill feelings against Barako Bull following the unexpected ouster despite steering the team to the playoffs of the season-ending Governors Cup.
Instead, he expressed his gratitude for the team after hiring him early this year when things didn’t pan out for him and Petron.