MANILA, Philippines - Coach Rajko Toroman is headed for the 5th FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China, on July 11-19 and will call the shots for Jordan as he faces Gilas, the team he piloted for four years, in a preview of a possible confrontation at the coming Asian Games.
Toroman, 59, booked a ticket for Jordan to Wuhan by sweeping the West Asia Basketball Association championships in Amman recently. Two slots were allocated for West Asia in the 10-team FIBA Asia Cup with Iran claiming the first berth outright by virtue of winning the FIBA Asia championship in Manila last year.
In his first international stint with Jordan after coaching the Philippine national team and two clubs in the PBA over a five-year period, Toroman went undefeated. Jordan beat Syria, 82-71, Iran, 69-57, Iraq, 65-54, Yemen, 98-38 and Palestine, 74-57 to finish with a 5-0 record. It was Jordan’s first WABA crown since 2002. Iran, however, didn’t send the senior squad with Hamed Haddadi and instead played its U18 squad in preparation for the FIBA World U18 Cup in Doha on Aug. 19-28.
Teams confirmed to play in Wuhan are the Philippines and Singapore from Southeast Asia, Iran and Jordan from West Asia, China, Chinese-Taipei and Japan from East Asia and India from South Asia. Two slots are left, one from Central Asia and one from the Gulf. Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan will represent Central Asia. The Gulf contenders are Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. There is talk that Lebanon, which is in the West Asia zone, may be extended an invitation to play if Central Asia or the Gulf forfeits its slot.
Singapore was a surprise qualifier from Southeast Asia, earning a berth after beating Indonesia, 72-62, and Malaysia, 69-61, in Batam, Indonesia, recently. Singapore coach Neo Beng Siang relied on 5-8 point guard Wong Wei Long and 6-2 off-guard Wu Qingde to lead the charge in sweeping the competition.
India claimed the South Asia slot by topping the zonal qualifiers with a 4-0 record, crushing Sri Lanka, 97-30, Bangladesh, 93-39, Nepal, 74-41 and Maldives, 108-32 in Kathmandu last month. India’s coach is American Scott Fleming.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes will submit a 24-man lineup to the FIBA Asia Cup organizers by June 11 and the final 12-man cast by July 2. Reyes earlier listed 19 players for the Asian Games to be held in Incheon on Sept. 19-Oct. 4. The 19 players are Jimmy Alapag, L. A. Tenorio, Jeff Chan, Jayson Castro, Gary David, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood, JuneMar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Marc Pingris, Marcus Douthit, Beau Belga, Jared Dillinger, Paul Lee, Andray Blatche, Jay Washington, Garvo Lanete and Matt Ganuelas.
Since the PBA Governors Cup will end on July 9, Reyes will likely excuse the Gilas players involved in the third conference Finals from the FIBA Asia Cup. He may invite a few more PBA players to join the Gilas pool for the FIBA Asia Cup and the FIBA World Cup in Spain on Aug. 30-Sept. 14. Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes are among the possible additions.
Wuhan was the city where Toroman brought Gilas to the semifinals of the FIBA Asia Championships in 2011. That was the Philippines’ best finish in the tournament since 1985-86. Reyes surpassed that achievement by piloting Gilas to the finals in Manila last year.
At the WABA qualifiers, Toroman’s key players were naturalized citizen Rasheim Wright, comebacking Sam Daghlas, Ahmad Aldwairi and Wesam Al Sous. In the last game against Palestine, Wright scored 18 points, Daghlas 13, Al Sous 12 and Aldwairi collected eight points and 18 rebounds. Wright led Jordan to third place at the FIBA Asia Championships in Taijin with an average of 20.7 points in 2009 then returned to lift Jordan to second place in Wuhan in 2011. Last year, Wright’s spot was taken over by Jimmy Baxter and Jordan fell to seventh at the FIBA Asia Championships.
Toroman said he will bring Daghlas and another comebacking veteran Zaid Abbas to play for Jordan at the Asian Games in Incheon. Daghlas and Abbas will skip the FIBA Asia Cup to undergo rehab in the same German clinic where Kobe Bryant had platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) therapy last year.
After Toroman left Barako Bull in the PBA last year, he returned to Serbia and entertained several coaching offers before finally deciding to take the Jordan job. “Life is excellent in Jordan,” said Toroman. “I like the city where I live. There’s a big Starbucks near my house in a big mall. It’s a very safe country. You can see even the King in the streets without security. The main city looks 60 percent like Europe and 40 percent like Asia. It’s nice to live in Jordan.”
The first four FIBA Asia Cup winners were Qatar in 2004, Jordan in 2008, Lebanon in 2010 and Iran in 2012. The Philippines placed eighth in 2004 and fourth in the last two FIBA Asia Cups.