The Smart-Gilas national team left on Thursday for Beirut, Lebanon with only nine players following the freak accident suffered by Japeth Aguilar at his girlfriend’s house.
“It’s going to be very difficult, a very tough competition,” Gilas coach Rajko Toroman said. “We’re going with so many problems.”
The only pleasant news for Toroman was the approval of the PBA Board to allow the 6-foot-9 center Asi Taulava to reinforce the team.
PBA Commissioner Sonny Barrios said they’re allowing Taulava to play for Smart Gilas since they know the veteran player can help the team with his experience.
“He can help us. He’s an experienced player and a tough guy,” added Toroman who said that Taulava has been practicing with Smart-Gilas the past six days. “Our goal is to make the quarterfinals, if we can do that, anything can happen.”
Taulava, who played for the three PBA-backed RP teams in the past, leaves for Beirut this Friday.
Coke management had made a sudden change of heart by allowing Taulava to play for Smart Gilas.
“As for Japeth, we still don’t know if he can play with the injury he sustained,” added Toroman.
The Nationals will compete in the 2010 FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup starting tomorrow without several key players.
Marcus Douthit, the 6-foot-10 American candidate for naturalization, and Fil-American Chris Lutz have yet to secure Philippine passports.
Seven-footer Greg Slaughter and 6-7 Rabeh Al-Hussaini could not take the trip because of academic obligations.
As if these were not enough, Aguilar’s stint was placed in jeopardy after being treated for a cut he sustained in his left leg.
Details of the accident were sketchy. Reports said it took 22 stitches to close the cut.
Aguilar, however, is expected to take the flight to Beirut today, but whether he can play remains a big question mark.
Smart-Gilas, bracketed in the so-called “Group of Death,” will play host Lebanon tomorrow, Syria on Sunday, Jordan on Monday and Qatar on Tuesday.
In Group A are Asian champion Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei. The top four teams on each group will move to the crossover quarterfinals.
“We’re going there to win games, not to lose. It doesn’t matter who we play,” Toroman said. “Maybe with this team we’ll be competitive. We have to put some of our outside players like Dylan Ababou and Rey Guevarra at the fourth spot.”
Smart-Gilas is using the Stankovic Cup as preparation for the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China in November, as well as the FIBA-Asia Championship also in Lebanon next year, the qualifying event.
Waylon Galvez, Manila Bulletin