Their brief stint in the Philippine Basketball Association last season hardly made an impact. Nor did they impress the few who cared to watch their games.
Two years of continued battles overseas, though, did Smart-Gilas Pilipinas a lot.
Serbian coach Rajko Toroman said competitive games in Australia, Serbia, United States, Lebanon and Qatar had provided Smart-Gilas Pilipinas the experience it needs so he is convinced the Nationals can stand up against the pros.
“They learned a lot the last two years. I really think so and it’s time to show them,” proclaimed Toroman, who guaranteed his young team of former collegiate standouts will be a force to reckon with in the import-laced Commissioner’s Cup.
The PBA granted the request of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to accommodate the Nationals as a guest team in preparation for the FIBA-Asia Championship which serves as qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.
With a strong field to contend with, Toroman said the Nationals need to develop mental and defensive toughness to be competitive in the Sept. 15-25 tournament to be held in China.
Certainly, the Serbian coach knows best. Four years ago he coached Iran’s National Team to victory in the FIBA-Asia Championship that earned the Iranians a spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Toroman said the PBA is the perfect playground where the Nationals could sharpen their skills.
“I think they [Nationals] have to compete with PBA players because I think they can get some toughness that PBA can give them and this is the most important thing,” he said.
For added motivation, PBA Commissioner Chito Salud challenged the Nationals to prove they deserve to don the national colors during an orientation last Thursday at the PBA Headquarters.
“It’s a big challenge for them. They have to show they are competitive. That they deserve to play for Smart Gilas,” Toroman said of the challenge.
He said their participation in the PBA brings some excitement for him because he feels Smart-Gilas Pilipinas can give something back to the league in terms of excitement, good players and good basketballI.
“I think for both [PBA and Smart-Gilas Pilipinas] it’s a win-win situation,” Toroman said.
Toroman readily admitted that it’s tough to play PBA teams, specifically the likes of Talk N’ Text, San Miguel Beer, Ginebra, Alaska and B-Meg Derby Ace. But he is also qualified the potentials of those teams depend on the imports they will choose.
“The imports will make a difference. Remember Diamon Simpson? He made the difference for Alaska last season,” Toroman noted.
Many observers as well as coaches believe Smart Gilas Pilipinas will figure prominently in the conference and possibly match the feat by the Northern Cement Consolidated sponsored Philippine Team which bagged the 1985 Reinforced Conference championship as a guest team.
That team coached by American Ron Jacobs and beefed up by naturalized players Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Chip Engelland swept Manila Beer in four games.
Smart-Gilas Pilipinas doesn’t necessarily enjoy that kind of privilege but observers claim the Nationals could be tough to beat with a 6-foot-10 Marcus Douthit patrolling the lanes.
Toroman doesn’t think so.
While he believes Douthit will make an impact, Toroman emphasized that Douthit will not be as dominating as the imports.
“At the end of the day he will not be the first rebounder and not the first scorer. He will not be like some of the coaches are thinking. He will be a big impact but not the way they are talking about,” The Serbian coach said of Douthit.
And while he considers Douthit’s size an advantage, Toroman emphasized his troops doesn’t have the years of experience enjoyed by the likes of Asi Taulava and Jimmy Alapag.
In last year’s Philippine Cup, Smart-Gilas Pilipinas played 10 games in the elimination round and won against Coca-Cola, SMB and Rain or Shine. The results of their games, however, were not reflected in the standings.
Toroman maintains the team under his disposal this time is vastly improved compared from the one he had last year.
“I hope we can reach the playoffs,” Toroman said. “I strongly believe this team is a very good team. It learned a lot over the last two years.”*
back to top