There was something pleasantly weird with the way Rajko Toroman was jumping up and down while clapping his hands overhead, as his players buried triples after layups, finger rolls after dunks. In the couple of years that I have followed the development of the Smart Gilas program, I have never seen the Serbian coach of the Philippine national basketball team that happy.
The occasion was the Philippine national team’s 83-76 win against Japan in the on-going 26th FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China. The winner of this tournament will be entitled for one of Asia’s slots to the 2012 London Olympics. Earlier in the tournament, the Gilas have beaten the UAE and Bahrain, but lost to powerhouse China in the preliminary round. In the second round however, the Philippine team composed of Mark Barocca, Asi Taulava, JV Casio, Jimmy Alapag, Chris Tiu, Japeth Aguilar, Mac Baracael, Marcus Douthit, Kelly Williams, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Ranidel de Ocampo, went undefeated over stronger teams Jordan, Japan and Syria.
On Friday, the Philippines defeated Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals. And now, only two teams stand in the way of the Filipinos’ dream to play Olympic basketball again. We will play against Jordan again in the semi-finals. We have beaten Jordan and we should beat them once more. Then there is the winner of the other semi-final match between China and Korea. China is a tough nut to crack and Korea is more or less of the same caliber.
But then, there is something pleasantly weird with the way Rajko Toroman is acting nowadays. Maybe he knows something we don’t. Maybe the man who brought the Iranian basketball team to the 2008 Beijing Olympics senses something big happening. Your prayers and mine could help the Smart Gilas Pilipinas achieve the dream.
Go, go, Gilas!