(3rd of 11 parts)
MANILA, Philippines – At first glance, Aldrech Ramos and JR Cawaling are just ordinary, skinny basketball players who didn’t appear capable of making a big splash in Philippine basketball.
But the two were integral parts to Far Eastern University’s Final Four UAAP run during the late 2000s, and later on they received invitations to the Smart Gilas Pilipinas developmental program.
Aldrech Ramos stands at 6-foot-7 and banners his length to go with a decent touch from mid-range, while JR Cawaling is a 6-foot-3 wing man who can torch opponents with his outside shot.
Head coach Rajko Toroman saw these attributes in their game and gifted Ramos and Cawaling with slots on the national team. From there, the two Tamaraws worked on their respective games and used their stay with the national squad as a stepping stone toward their PBA careers.
Ramos marches forward with Alaska
In four years with the FEU Tamaraws, Ramos shot over 50% from the field and averaged 10.5 PPG and 9.5 RPG. He was selected as part of the UAAP Mythical Team three times from Season 72 to 74.
He played under Smart Gilas for various tournaments like the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, Dubai International Basketball Tournament, and the PBA Commissioner’s Cup even before joining the PBA Draft. He would also play for the Philippine Patriots in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).
When he applied for the big league in 2012, Ramos was selected 5th overall by Barako Bull Energy Cola, before being dealt to B-Meg Llamados and later on, the Alaska Aces.
From just averaging 7 minutes in his rookie season, Ramos is now earning 16 minutes a game under Coach Luigi Trillo, piling 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per outing. He serves as a backup forward and uses his height and heft to contribute.
Cawaling: The last of the Smart Gilas boys
When JR Cawaling was selected 30th overall in the 2013 PBA Draft, Rain or Shine’s Chris Tiu – captain of Smart Gilas I – was the first to talk to him afterwards, congratulating the Smart Gilas wing man for making it to the pro ranks.
“Chris just congratulated me and told me we’re now complete,” said Cawaling, who is the last Smart Gilas boy drafted in the PBA.
Cawaling was part of the San Miguel Beermen roster that won the ABL title in 2013, helping the squad with his three-point shooting. Although he is not yet getting a huge chunk of the minutes under Coach Tim Cone, Cawaling has the luxury to learn from two of the league’s finest shooters – James Yap and PJ Simon.
He will definitely give the Mixers extra offense when he gets inserted into the action.
Rappler: How does it feel to be part of a long developmental program?
Aldrech Ramos: I feel very glad especially now that the program has reached its 5th year. I’m proud to be part of it and happy for Gilas.
JR Cawaling: It feels great because we were part of the very first Gilas team. And it feels wonderful for all of us to be drafted in the PBA. I’m happy that it happened.
Rappler: How did the Smart Gilas program helped you in improving your game?
AR: It helped me with my skills. Gilas helped me a lot especially the management and coaches there.
JRC: It was a big boost to my career. I had lots of experience, playing against bigger opposition. The talent improved and we gained confidence.
Rappler: What’s your favorite moment while with Smart Gilas?
AR: The out-of-country tournaments. It helped a lot in building my toughness.
JRC: When we were in Serbia, the entire team were bonding in a single room. That’s the best part of the Smart Gilas program. We were like brothers even if we came from different colleges. When we’re together we’re like a family.
Rappler: What’s the best thing Coach Rajko Toroman taught you?
AR: Give your best lagi (always) and don’t relax when you’re on the floor. Coach Rajko is strict and I think that helped his players.
JRC: Coach Rajko is very simple. He just wants you to make sure you are going to do something with confidence.
Established 5 years ago, the Smart Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team went all over the globe with the quest of making it to the 2012 London Olympics.
The team 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.
Part 3: A tale of two Tamaraws
Part 4: The Reinforcements I (coming out next week)
Part 5: The Reinforcements II
Part 6: The original big boys
Part 7: The three musketeers
Part 8: Baracael cherishes ‘second life’ with Ginebra
Part 9: The search for the naturalized center
Part 10: The Dominicans
Part 11: The Pioneers
Check back again next week for the latest story here on The Smart Gilas boys: 5 years after. – Rappler.com