Rajko back in town as Jordan coach
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Jordan is coming to town tomorrow but it’s neither Michael Jordan nor Jordan Clarkson. Serbian coach Rajko Toroman, who used to call the shots for Gilas, is arriving with the Jordan national team to play a series of tune-up games against PBA squads in preparation for the FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha, China, on Sept. 23-Oct. 3.

Toroman, 60, will make his FIBA Asia debut with Jordan in Changsha after leading Iran to the title in 2007 and the Philippines to fourth in 2011. He was based in Manila for five years up to 2013, coaching Petron and Barako Bull in the PBA after his Gilas stint.

Jordan will stay in Manila from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21. The first practice game is scheduled against Barangay Ginebra on Tuesday. Jordan set up camp in China last Sept. 8 and welcomed back naturalized player Alex Legion who was once coached by NBA legend Isiah Thomas at Florida International University.

It won’t be easy sailing for Jordan in Changsha as the team has been drawn to the Group of Death with China, South Korea and Singapore. However, the top three finishers in the preliminaries will advance to the second round so Jordan is expected to qualify with Singapore sure to drop out in Group C. The problem for Jordan is in the second round, it will face the top three finishers from Group D which is composed of Chinese-Taipei, Lebanon, Qatar and Kazakhstan. The top four finishers of the second round from the Group C-D qualifiers advance to the knockout quarterfinals. Even if Jordan advances, it will likely meet one of the top qualifiers from Groups A and B which could be Iran or the Philippines in the knockout quarterfinals.

Toroman said he picks China as the tournament favorite “just because they are the domestic (host) team.” He ranked the order of finish of five other teams – No. 2 Iran if forward Samad Nikkhah Bahrami will play (he was absent from the Jones Cup roster), No. 3 Philippines, No. 4 South Korea, No. 5 Chinese-Taipei and No. 6 Lebanon. Toroman downplayed Jordan’s chances. “My team is so-so,” he said. “No money, no music. Alex is good and a very talented player but the veterans are coming back late.”

Toroman said he monitored the Philippines’ silver finish at the recent Jones Cup in Taipei. “I watched the Philippines versus Chinese-Taipei,” he said. “(Terrence) Romeo and (Calvin) Abueva are playing good.” The Philippines submitted its 12-man roster to FIBA Asia before the Sept. 8 deadline with Romeo and Abueva in the cast. Others in the lineup are Andray Blatche, Ranidel de Ocampo, Matt Ganuelas, Dondon Hontiveros, J. C. Intal, Gabe Norwood, Marc Pingris, Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss and Jayson Castro.

Regarding Lebanon, Toroman said the national team is in turmoil because players are on strike because of a proposal to add a third import for each club in the domestic league. “The Lebanon coach is Toza Matic who used to be with Iran,” he said. “Lebanon has a lot of problems. Fadi (El Khatib) was not in Serbia for their training camp where they lost all their games. But the federation recently met with Fadi and it is a possibility that he’ll play in Changsha.”

Lebanon took first place at the West Asia Basketball Association Championships to book a ticket to Changsha after sitting out the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships due to its federation’s suspension. El Khatib hit 27 points in Lebanon’s 92-74 win over second place Jordan. Lebanon paraded naturalized player 6-5 Jay Youngblood of Kent State. Youngblood, 31, played as an import in Poland and Austria before moving to Lebanon in 2010. Last season, he averaged 24.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists for United Byblos in the Lebanese league. He took over from 7-2 NBA veteran Loren Woods who is injured.

Jordan’s best FIBA Asia finish was second in 2011 when the national squad, coached by Tab Baldwin, lost to China, 70-69, in the final. Jordan had the final possession but couldn’t convert to settle for the silver. Baldwin is now the Gilas coach. On the way to the final, Jordan upset Iran, 88-84, in the knockout quarterfinals and the Philippines, 75-61, in the semifinals.

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