Rajko Toroman rates Gilas’ chances in World Cup

Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star
Rajko Toroman rates Gilasâ chances in World Cup
Rajko Toroman

MANILA, Philippines — Former Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman said yesterday the Philippines is in a “very tough” bracket with Serbia, Italy and Angola in Group D of the FIBA World Cup in China on Aug. 31-Sept. 15 but if Jordan Clarkson is cleared to play as a local, the chances of advancing to the second round will improve dramatically.

After a round robin in Foshan, the top two Group D finishers proceed to the second round in Wuhan and the last two placers are relegated to the classification stage in Beijing.

“With Clarkson, Gilas will be very strong,” said Toroman in an email from Belgrade. “Without Clarkson, it still has a chance but not that big. With Clarkson, the chances are 40 percent but without, 25 percent. If Italy will come without some of their star players like (Danilo) Gallinari, (Marco) Bellineli, (Gigi) Diatome and (Nicolo) Melli, the chances are bigger because the players from domestic championships don’t have a main role in their clubs with American imports dominating. The Italian coach (Romeo) Sacchetti is also a weak point.”

Toroman, 64, said it’s possible for the Philippines to upset Italy. “To beat Italy, you need a great performance and Italy to have one of those days when not too much is going right,” he said. “And you need 10,000 Filipino fans in China to support Gilas.”

In 2011, Toroman piloted the Philippines to fourth place at the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan behind China, Jordan and South Korea in that order. Three of his players were in coach Yeng Guiao’s pool for the sixth window of the recent FIBA Asia/Oceania World Cup Qualifiers – Mark Barroca, Japeth Aguilar and Marcio Lassiter.

Assuming Serbia sweeps the first round, it will take two wins for the Philippines to advance outright, meaning Gilas has to beat Italy and Angola. Toroman said Angola may not pose a problem. “Angola was a powerful basketball country during coach Mario Palma’s time,” he said. “Now, Angola is not that strong and I will give more chances to Gilas.” Angola is dependent on three mainstays – 6-9 Yanick Moreira, 27; 6-6 naturalized player Reggie Moore, 37 and 6-3 Carlos Morais, 33. The Angolan coach is American Will Voight, 42, who led Nigeria to the 2016 Olympics.

Serbia bagged silvers at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics so now, coach Aleksandr Djordjevic, 51, has his sights set on the throne. Djordjevic played eight games for the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1996-97 NBA season. “Djordjevic was a big-time player and I was the assistant coach when he played for the national team,” said Toroman. “He was very smart on the court, making tough decisions. He wasn’t too successful coaching clubs like Panathinaikos or Bayern but with the Serbian national team, he’s done great work and I think he’s the right person for the job.”

Toroman said Serbia will be a medal contender and threat to the US in the World Cup. “Even Kobe (Bryant) warned the US team how strong Serbia is,” he said. “Right now, Serbia has 12 players at the highest level in the NBA and EuroLeague. It has lots of talent. Some of the players have improved a lot like Nikola Milutinov, Vasa Micic and Marko Guduric.”

The Serbians in the NBA this season are 7-3 Boban Marjanovic of Philadelphia, 6-10 Nemanja Bjelica and 6-6 Bogdan Bogdanovic of Sacramento and 7-0 Nikola Jokic of Denver. NBA veterans 6-5 Milos Teodosic and 7-0 Miroslav Raduljica are also in the Serbian pool. Another key player is 7-0 Milutinov, the San Antonio Spurs’ first round pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

“I think the chances that Jokic will play are 50-50,” said Toroman. “I think he wants to play but the problem is Denver. Jokic is the Nuggets’ main player and last year, signed a $150 Million, five-year contract extension. I think Denver will recommend him not to play. His body is still not strong enough and he could use the summer to work on getting stronger. The other day, Jokic was quoted as saying it’s too early to make a final decision on whether or not he’ll play in the World Cup and his focus is just the NBA playoffs.”

Toroman said beyond this year’s World Cup, Gilas should begin to build the foundations of a competitive team for the 2023 edition which the Philippines will co-host with Japan and Indonesia. “The bigger goal is to prepare for 2023,” he said. “The talent level will be high for the next national team with Kai Sotto, Ricci Rivero and Thirdy Ravena. That’s only four years away.”




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