MANILA, Philippines - American Marcus Douthit finally gets the chance to show his wares as he leads Smart Gilas Pilipinas’ bid against Dongguan of the Chinese Basketball Association at the start of the 2010 Smart Philippine Invitational Challenge at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium today.
The 6-10 Douthit, a former NBA draftee and a veteran of the European circuit, is the country’s top naturalization candidate and his chances to make it to the RP team competing in this year’s Asian Games would hinge on his performance in the four-day, five-team tournament, also known as the MVP Cup Invitational.
“We’ll see what he can really do,” said Toroman in yesterday’s event launch at Trader’s Hotel, referring to the athletic, long-limbed former Providence standout.
Gametime is at 7 p.m.
The Jordanian national team and Barangay Ginebra kick off hostilities at 4:30 p.m. preceding the 6:30 p.m. opening ceremony to be graced by no less than Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan.
Commission chair Harry Angping and Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. are also expected to grace the opener as special guests.
Talk n Text, the other guest team from the PBA, debuts against Dongguan at 5 p.m. tomorrow.
The Nationals and the Jordanians collide in the other game.
The final elimination round schedule pits Smart Gilas against Ginebra and Jordan versus Dongguan on Saturday.
The top two teams dispute the championship on Monday.
Interestingly, the tournament will feature Olympic coaches Toroman and Mario Palma of Jordan and former RP team mentors Jong Uichico of Ginebra and Chot Reyes of Talk n Text.
Toroman steered the Iranians to the 2008 Beijing Olympics while Palma led Angola’s Olympic run a decade ago.
Uichico, for his part, coached the Nationals in the 1998 Busan Asian Games and Reyes mentored the Filipinos in the 2007 FIBA-Asia Championship in Tokushima, Japan.
“It’s interesting to see these brilliant minds coach against each other,” said SBP executive director Noli Eala.
It marks the first time that Palma will get to pit coaching talents with Toroman after Smart Gilas bested the Palma-less Jordanians in last January’s Dubai Invitational where the Filipinos ended up third.
Although Palma, a Portuguese, is impressed with Smart Gilas’ game, he thinks RP could still improve.
“From what I see, there are many talents here. All you need to do is gather these talents, put premium on defense and play as one unit, not individually,” he said.
Palma was referring to the national teams backed and bankrolled by the PBA in the 2007 and 2009 Fiba Asia Championships in Tokushima, Japan and Tianjin, China, respectively, where the RP teams failed to even make it to the semifinals.
“If you play for the spectators and not for winning games, it’s going to be difficult. In international games, better teams prosper and not talented individuals,’’ said Palma, who beat the all-pro RP team twice.
Toroman’s arrival though should help RP get back on the Asian map.
“You have great players but no team play. You can’t play like this in international tournaments,’’ Palma said. “In my opinion, coach Rajko will change all of these. He’s here to make improvements and change the game just like what he did to Iran.’’
Led by 7-foot-3 Sun Zhe and the 6-foot-11 Zhang Kai, the Dongguan Leopards will test the RP squad’s candidate for naturalization, Marcus Douthit, after Jordan tackles the Barangay Ginebra Kings in the five-team, four-day tournament opener supported by Meralco.