MANILA, Philippines – The odds are stacked against Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup, but according to former national team mentor Rajko Toroman, nothing is set in stone yet.
Toroman said the Philippines – despite being ranked 31st in the world – can pull off surprises against world No. 4 Serbia, No. 11 Italy, and No. 39 Angola in the first round of the global hoops showdown.
“I think that Philippines, day by day, each year, they are improving,” said Toroman, whose Mighty Sports club held the national squad to a draw in their tuneup game on Monday, July 8.
“You know, they have really good players, a country of good players, and it’s a powerful basketball country now in Asia. And with one import, they will be very competitive.
“I thought that maybe the group was not so good in the World Cup for Philippines because they play against Serbia, which I think they’re coming with the best team [in] maybe [the] last 20, 25 years. You know they have 5 NBA players.
“Also, Italy is strong. But everything is possible.”
The toughest test the Philippines will face is Serbia, which won silver medals in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics behind Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic and former NBA player Milos Teodosic.
Italy, meanwhile, will be just as deadly with San Antonio Spurs guard Mario Belinelli and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari expected to see action. (LOOK: NBA players Gilas may face in FIBA World Cup)
“I think that the chance is against Italy than against Serbia. But these two European teams [are] still European teams [and] will be on a higher level than Asian teams,” said the Serbian tactician.
“Maybe Australia is competitive with European teams. And for me, Philippines can make surprise, but they have to play excellent game against Italy.”
Toroman – who coached the first Gilas team a decade ago – currently serves as an assistant to Charles Tiu for Mighty Sports, which will compete in the 2019 Jones Cup to be staged in Taiwan starting Friday, July 12.
After that stint, Toroman will then call the shots for Indonesia in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games, which will be hosted by the country later this year. – Rappler.com