20-day Serbian trip for Indonesia
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Indonesia has been the bridesmaid in men’s basketball over the last two Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, finishing second to the Philippines in 2015 and 2017. Since 1977, Indonesia has taken four silvers in the sport. 

In 2015, Indonesia fell twice to the Philippines, 81-52, in the group stage and, 72-64, in the final. The Philippine team was coached by Tab Baldwin and the lineup included Troy Rosario and Scottie Thompson who are in the current pool preparing for the SEA Games late this year. In 2017, the Philippines was coached by Joseph Uichico who’s in Tim Cone’s staff for the coming SEA Games and Rosario was back in the roster. Christian Standhardinger was also in the cast and he’s in the pool this year. The Philippines crushed Indonesia, 94-55, in the final.

In 19 SEA Games basketball competitions, the Philippines has won 17 golds and Malaysia, two. Malaysia captured the crown in 1979 and 1989, both at the Philippines’ expense.

At the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Philippines is joining forces with Indonesia and Japan to co-host the 32-nation event. Although the co-hosts are automatically qualified in the tournament, FIBA has given Indonesia fair warning to make its national team competitive. It’s not certain if Indonesia’s privilege to play will be withheld if FIBA isn’t convinced of the team’s level of quality. But Indonesian Olympic Committee president, SEABA president and FIBA Central Board member Erick Thohir isn’t waiting for an ultimatum. He’s moving mountains to fortify the team and the first step was hiring Serbian coach Rajko Toroman.

If there’s a coach who can bring Indonesia to the next level in basketball, it’s Toroman. He has coached the national teams of Yugoslavia U22, Iran, the Philippines and Jordan and also clubs in Serbia, Greece, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Bosnia, Cyprus, Hungary, China and the PBA. In 2008, he piloted Iran at the Beijing Olympics.

Toroman, 64, knows Philippine basketball like the palm of his hand. He’s been with Gilas, Barako Bull and Petron. Toroman is acquainted with Filipino players and the Philippine style. It’s clear that if Indonesia hopes to capture the gold medal at the SEA Games, it will mean beating the Philippines.

Toroman has no illusions, realizing the Philippines is untouchable at the SEA Games, particularly this year since the country is hosting. But he’s out to give it a try if only to find out how far Indonesia’s level of play is from the Philippines. His mandate is to prepare Indonesia for 2023 so the priority isn’t today but four years from now.

“What to tell you about Gilas,” said Toroman in an e-mail the other day. “Tim Cone is a great coach. He knows what he’s doing. Gilas is the strongest team in the SEA Games, with or without an import. Probably, the reason for playing without an import is chemistry.”

Gilas’ 15-man pool lists no naturalized player. Under SEA Games rules, a player with a passport of the country he’s representing is recognized as a local if not naturalized. FIBA’s eligibility rules are different. Standhardinger, Stanley Pringle and Chris Ross are considered naturalized players by FIBA but not by the SEA Games Federation. They’re all half-Filipino. Others in the Gilas pool are Rosario, Thompson, L. A. Tenorio, Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Art de la Cruz, Jayson Castro, R. R. Pogoy, Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo, Vic Manuel and Matthew Wright.

Toroman brought in former PBA import Denzel Bowles as Indonesia’s naturalized player and he arrived in Jakarta two weeks ago. Bowles played for Rain or Shine in the recent Commissioner’s Cup but left after nine games with a medial meniscus tear and a medial collateral ligament tear in the right knee. Bowles, 30, averaged 28.9 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists before making his exit. He was named Best Player in the 2012 PBA Commissioner’s Cup where his team B-Meg won the title.

“Denzel is coming from injury but he’s practicing well,” said Toroman. “For the SEA Games, we’ll probably play all Indonesian plus Denzel. Most of our Indonesian players are coming from the three best teams, Stapac, Satria Muda and Pelita Jaya.”

Among the Indonesian bigs under consideration for the national team are 6-10 Firman Nugroho, 27, 6-9 Muhammad Dhiya, 27, 6-8 Adhi Prasetyo, 25, 6-7 Valentino Wuwingan, 28, 6-7 Derrick Xzaveno, 16 and 6-7 Kelvin Sanjaya, 18.

Toroman said Thohir is supporting the team which will leave for a 20-day training trip to Serbia on Oct. 25. The Indonesian squad will play nine games against first and second division clubs from Serbia. 

“I don’t think it’s time (for Indonesia) to win the gold in the SEA Games,” said Toroman. “The Philippines will play at home and they’re stronger than us. For 2023, if we have FIBA rules for playing, we can be more competitive. A lot of teams will come with Americans so it will be a tough competition.”

Unlike Indonesia, the Philippines won’t enjoy the luxury of overseas training for the SEA Games. Gilas’ preparation time is limited because of the ongoing PBA Governors Cup where Cone is coaching Barangay Ginebra. For sure, Indonesia will learn a lot in Serbia and gain the confidence to challenge the Philippines in the SEA Games with Toroman at the helm.


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