The former and the current coach are in agreement.
For former Philippine national team coach Rajko Toroman, Gilas Pilipinas is still the ahead of the competition when it comes to basketball in Southeast Asia. No question. This, however, doesn’t mean that that the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games will still be a cakewalk for the Filipinos.
In this year’s edition of the biennial meet, Toroman—who coached Indonesia to the gold medal last year—reminded that Gilas needed a breakout game from Justin Brownlee to escape a depleted Indonesian squad in the semis.
The gold medal game victory against the naturalized player-laden Cambodia wasn’t also a rout like the Philippines used to do in previous decades.
“Philippines is the best Southeast Asian country in basketball, that’s for sure, but the gap is so close now,” Toroman told former PBA Commissioner on the show Power and Play on Saturday.
“The Philippines must understand, SEA Games, it’s like World Cup now for the Philippines,” he added.
Sending the best team is an obvious solution, and Coach Rajko said this can be done if the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) “make adjustment with the league.” He is referring to the PBA.
Coach Chot Reyes, the current coach of the national squad, agrees—and offers an insight how the ideal team could look like. This insight resembles a national team program, which Toroman said he hasn’t been seeing in Gilas recently.
“I believe a team of college players, maybe the younger PBA players, with a naturalized player, can get the job done. Pero kailangan mahaba ‘yung preparasyon, kailangan 2-3 months talaga,” Reyes told Eala on the same episode of the program.
“We have to send a team. We can no longer, like before, send a collection of great talents or good players from different teams,” Coach Chot added.
The five-time PBA Coach of the Year also explained that nations catching up to basketball powers is a trend not limited to Asia. Challenges in regional tournaments, according to him, has also been experienced by stronger programs like the USA.
“Hindi rin nila [Team USA] puwede biruin ‘yung regional tournaments. If they don’t bring their best, natatalo rin sila. That’s really the trend globally.”
All the more should SBP, along with PBA, get its act together. Good thing they still have more or less two years before the next SEA Games in Thailand.