The Smart Gilas boys: five years after

Levi Verora
Rappler sportswriter Levi Verora takes you on a trip down memory lane in the first installment of his 11-part series chronicling the underdog story that is Smart-Gilas Pilipinas.

OVERCOMING THE ODDS. The Smart Gilas Pilipinas team has captured the imagination of an entire nation. Photo by Rick Olivares

MANILA, Philippines – The 2009 FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia marked the start of Smart Gilas Pilipinas’ long basketball journey with the ambition of making it to the 2012 London Olympics.

The national men’s basketball team, made up of the most promising amateur standouts like Chris Tiu (Ateneo), JVee Casio (La Salle), Mark Barroca (FEU), Mac Baracael (FEU), Japeth Aguilar (Ateneo/Western Kentucky U) and a naturalization candidate in American CJ Giles to name a few, set their sails on an expedition that shall be remembered well by Filipino hoop fans.

Smart Gilas, the monicker given to the national squad, tapped Serbian mentor Rajko Toroman, who has a fine share of international experience. At that time, Toroman had just secured Iran’s first Olympic appearance in over 40 years after winning the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship. 

The team went all over the globe and conducted several training camps in Australia, Belgrade, the United States, and Dubai in their quest to make it to the biggest sports spectacle in the world. Through their journey, the entire team was able to foster camaraderie and a special bond among themselves. The players improved every step of the way.

In the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, the Smart Gilas crew fell just two games short but left so many fond memories which still resonate in basketball fans’ minds until now.

It has been 5 years since their remarkable journey. Rappler Sports’ Levi Verora gives you an 11-part special every Thursday as we look back at one of the best Philippine national basketball teams ever assembled.

Bookmark this page and tune in every Thursday as we throw you back to Smart Gilas’ inspiring road towards basketball supremacy.

Primer: The Smart Gilas boys: 5 years after 

Part 1: Lutz and Lassiter: Petron’s two of a kind 

Part 2: Ginebra’s Twin Towers

Part 3: A tale of two Tamaraws

Part 4: Taulava, Mercado, Williams – The Reinforcements I

Part 5: Alapag, De Ocampo, Hontiveros – The Reinforcements II 

Part 6: Rajko’s original hardworking big men

Part 7: Tiu, Casio, Barroca – The three musketeers

Part 8: Never say die: A ‘second life’ for Mac Baracael

Part 9: Searching for a naturalized big


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