Finishing fourth in the recent Jones Cup was nothing for the Philippine national basketball team to crow about even if it was an improvement from sixth place with a PBA selection last year.
But there is some consolation in the way coach Rajko Toroman’s Smart Gilas squad proudly wore the country’s colors. The team never gave up and competed feverishly in each game. That’s a positive sign. In fact, Gilas could’ve won at least two more if not for its lack of depth – a problem Toroman is now addressing by inviting a handful of PBA cagers to reinforce the lineup for the Asian Games in Guangzhou this November.
Last year, coach Yeng Guiao piloted the Philippines to sixth place with a 2-6 record in the annual Taipei joust. His All-Star roster listed Willie Miller, Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Kerby Raymundo, Gabe Norwood, Arwind Santos and Japeth Aguilar, among others. The team beat Kazakhstan and Chinese-Taipei B but lost to Jordan by 31, Iran
by 25, Lebanon by 12, Chinese-Taipei A by nine, Korea by three and Japan by two.
This year, Gilas defeated Chinese-Taipei A and B and the Townsville Crocodiles of Australia but lost to Iran by 13, Japan by 10 and Lebanon by 11. Playing six games in seven days was a huge challenge for Gilas. Only import Marcus Douthit, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Jayvee Casio and Mark Barroca saw action the entire stretch. Toroman paced his troops by resting some players alternatively in games where he could afford a limited rotation. Chris Tiu and Mac Baracael, for instance, sat out the Australia contest and Greg Slaughter, the overtime win over Chinese-Taipei A.
Gilas played Japan less than 24 hours after the draining victory over Chinese Taipei A in extension and although coach Tom Wisman’s team had no import, his cagers were a lot fresher, particularly Tomeo Amino and former Phoenix Sun guard Yuta Tabuse who combined for 23 points. Then, in the final game against Lebanon, Gilas ran out of steam down the stretch and frittered away a 15-point lead in the third period. Even if Lebanon didn’t show up with Fadi El-Khatib, 6-5 Elie Estephane of Alabama Southern Community College and former NBA center Jackson Vroman did enough damage to clip Gilas.
No doubt, there’s a lot of pressure on Gilas to win. The ultimate goal is to represent Asia in the 2012 London Olympics and that means capturing the FIBA-Asia championship – second place won’t do – in Beirut next year. But to threaten for the FIBA-Asia title, Gilas must make waves in the Asian Games as a prelude.
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Right now, 17 players are in the Gilas pool. The cast includes Douthit, a 6-10 American whose naturalization papers are being hastily processed to obtain eligibility for Guangzhou. The timing of Douthit’s naturalization depends on Congress which has the authority to make it legal – that means his status is not within Gilas’ control.
The pool will be reduced to 14 with the impending release of Rabeh Al-Hussaini, R. J. Jazul and Rey Guevara who are expected to apply for the coming PBA draft. Al-Hussaini couldn’t adjust to his role with Gilas and may be better off playing in the pros.
A rumor that Barroca may leave Gilas and join the PBA draft was debunked. The former FEU guard is under contract with Gilas and unless he’s released, there’s no way the draft is an option. Besides, a source said Barroca is comfortable in his new role as playmaker, not necessarily a scorer, for Toroman and relishes the experience of suiting up for the country.
If Toroman plans to bring in PBA reinforcements, he’s got to figure out whom to tap as soon as possible. Any PBA player lent to Gilas must be cleared by the PBA Board of Governors.
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Meanwhile, the Asian Games organizing committee has set a deadline of July 30 – this Friday – for the country’s athletes by name. The early submission will allow the organizing committee to issue accreditation papers that may be used as visas. FIBA-Asia, which will supervise the basketball competitions in Guangzhou, requires the submission of rosters 60 days before the start of the Asian Games.
Douthit’s name is expected to be included in the 12-man lineup to beat the organizing committee’s deadline but if his naturalization papers are not processed in time, he’ll be scratched out eventually. Players may be substituted up to the day before the start of hostilities during the team managers’ meeting but latecomers are required to secure visas and accreditation in that order.
Kelly Williams, Ryan Reyes, Sol Mercado, Sonny Thoss and Asi Taulava are the PBA players often mentioned as possible recruits for Gilas. It’s not certain if the mother clubs of Mercado, Thoss and Taulava will allow their participation even if the PBA Board clears the request. Williams and Reyes shouldn’t find it difficult to get permission from Talk ‘N’ Text owner Manny Pangilinan who is also SBP president and Gilas’ primary patron. But Reyes may not be available for Guangzhou as his wife is scheduled to give birth in November.
Not only must Toroman face up to the pressure of delivering the goods but he also has to wrestle with problems like Aguilar’s slow development, readjusting plays to improve chemistry and dealing with internal political issues. But if there’s anyone who can bring Gilas all the way home, it’s Toroman. He’s the man with the golden touch that took Iran to the Beijing Olympics and the vision to restore Philippine supremacy in Asian basketball.
Joaquin Henson, Philippine Star