FORMER national coach Rajko Toroman is convinced Gilas Pilipinas is in a better position to land one of the top three berths in this year’s Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship compared to the team he steered to a fourth-place finish during the 2011 edition of the meet in Wuhan, China.
Although the original Smart Gilas team of Toroman was built behind a three-year program, the Serbian coach said last-minute tweaks and the eligibility issues that hounded Fil-Am Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz during the course of the team’s campaign affected the nationals’ performance.
“If you remember in Wuhan, we had a short period of time to prepare. We had to get some PBA players,” recalled Toroman, who added pros Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams, Jimmy Alapag, and Ranidel De Ocampo to the team roster with just a month to go before the Fiba-Asia.
“We also had problems with Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz. So a lot of bad things happened. Plus we lost to Korea by two points.”
The top three finishers in the Fiba-Asia meet get to qualify to the Fiba-World Basketball Championship in Spain next year.
Given the preparation and buildup being made by Gilas Pilipinas for the August 1-11 tournament, Toroman believes national coach Chot Reyes is on the right track given the camaraderie and cohesion built by the team since February when the 18-man roster was first named.
And while the PBA-dominated national squad suffered setbacks in the months that followed after the loss to injuries of Williams, Jared Dilinger, Ryan Reyes, and Sonny Thoss, Toroman stressed Reyes has enough tested players who could keep Gilas competitive against its Asian rivals.
“Chot is an experienced coach. He’s won titles here in the PBA and he’s got experience coaching in 2007 and in 2011 (Fiba-Asia). So he knows what he’s doing,” he said.
“Gilas also played seven (tune-up) games in Lithuania so for the moment, without any injuries in the team, Gilas will do well.”
Middle East powers Jordan, Lebanon, and Qatar, along with Chinese-Taipei are fielding naturalized players in the Fiba-Asia tilt being hosted by Manila for the first time since 1973.
But Toroman insisted even that won’t guarantee an Asian championship.
“It doesn’t matter who the naturalized players are. Just imagine the 20,000 people that will cheer for Gilas. They will create an atmosphere so that home court advantage could really work for Gilas. That’s why the Philippines has a very strong chance,” noted the current active consultant of Barako Bull.
Toroman knows where he speaks of.
Prior to leading Smart Gilas to the semifinals of the biennial meet two years ago, the Serbian piloted the Iran national squad to its first-ever Fiba-Asia men’s title in 2007 edition in Tokushima, Japan.
The championship earned the Iranians an Olympic berth, marking the first time they competed in the quadrennial Games held in Beijing in 2008.