FORMER Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman said he felt very much part of the Gilas Pilipinas success, after the Philippine team whipped South Korea, 86-79, to advance to the Fiba-Asia men’s basketball finals before a delirious crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“It’s really a big win for Filipino basketball,” beamed the 55-year-old coach after the semifinal victory by the national squad.
“They (Filipinos) need this kind of result. It’s a big win. Now, the Philippines is in the world (championship) again and I feel very much part of that because I started with Gilas and they continued with the Gilas program. Everybody is happy here,” he added.
Toroman, who currently handles Barako Bull in the PBA, helped coach Chot Reyes during the national team’s buildup for the Fiba-Asia showpiece.
The Serbian, along with Tab Baldwin of the US, another veteran international basketball coach, provided vital scouting tips and additional insight to the Gilas Pilipinas squad that had set its sight on grabbing one of the three available slots for the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain.
“That’s really what Filipino basketball is. They have a good professional league and that’s something because they made the 90 million Filipinos proud,” he said.
“Now, they are going to the world championship to compete with the best teams in the world. That’s great for the Filipinos and they deserve it.”
The soft-spoken mentor helped assemble the present Iran national squad the past decade, before eventually steering the Iranians to the 2007 Fiba-Asia basketball title, demolishing China in the gold medal round in Tokushima, Japan.
Less than two years after, Toroman was tapped to jumpstart the Smart Gilas national basketball program with the goal of earning a berth for the 2012 London Olympics.
The Smart Gilas batch under Toroman though fell short two years ago in Wuhan, China. The Toroman-mentored national squad bowed to South Korea, 68-70 during the bronze medal game in the 2011 edition, a defeat that continued the national team’s string of misfortune against the Koreans.