MANILA, Philippines – Coach Rajko Toroman knew from the moment he landed a shooter from Ateneo de Manila, a tough guard from Far Eastern University and a combo guard from De La Salle, his backcourt will only be as good as it can get.
Chris Tiu, a spot-up shooter from the Blue Eagles, Mark Barroca, a scorer, passer and defender from the Tamaraws, and JVee Casio, the Green Archers’ main man in the backcourt, comprised what would be a deadly lineup of guards for Smart Gilas.
Chris Tiu: A phenomenal ride for the captain
Fresh out of college, the young Tiu was appointed captain of the Smart Gilas program; also a commercial model and a TV show host, Tiu seemed to have no problem juggling between big responsibilities, but he knew heading a team of a sport we’re all passionate about puts tremendous pressure on his shoulders.
“There’s a lot of pressure being captain of the sport we’re all passionate about, but taking on leadership roles is a challenge I like to take on. I thank Toroman for trusting and believing in me, that I can lead a young group,” said the Rain or Shine Elasto Painter.
And although Smart Gilas I fell short in Wuhan, China, Tiu taught it was a springboard for Gilas 2 as they put country back on the Asian basketball map.
“We achieved something that has not been done in the past years.”
Until the very end, Tiu opened his mind and shared everything he could to his squad. That leadership has earned Tiu a PBA stint where he was drafted 7th overall in 2012, where he would play both backcourt positions for Coach Yeng Guiao.
JVee Casio: One of PBA’s deadliest shooters
Casio is known for his impeccable for touch from beyond the arc back in his hay day in La Salle, but when he stepped into the Smart Gilas program, Toroman transformed him into an even deadlier play who can man both backcourt roles.
“It was a big adjustment for me; I learned how to be a point guard and it helped me big time,” said the Alaska Aces point guard.
With the national team, Casio directed the plays and also torched the hoops several times, including a game against the NBA selection where he fired four conversions from three-point land.
The 5-foot-11 point guard was named best guard of the Dubai International Basketball Tournament in 2010 where the Philippines finished third; but had his share of low moments, taking the last heave against Korea in their third-place game in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship. Gilas lost, 68-70 as Casio crippled down into tears.
The more experienced Jimmy Alapag immediately whispered words of encouragement to the fallen Smart Gilas playmaker.
“Jimmy, I learned a lot from him. He told me it’s just another game, and we’ll have another opportunity. He’s a very positive leader.”
When he was drafted first overall by the Powerade Tigers in 2011, he made the same impact for his squad and is now considered as one of the most reliable long range shooters in the league.
Mark Barroca: The San Mig Coffee King
Before approaching Mark Barroca for this piece, there was a photographer who handed him some pictures. And when I finally talked to him regarding “The Smart Gilas boys,” he showed me a photo of him together with his Smart Gilas teammates and CJ Giles – the very first batch of Smart Gilas players. It was indeed fitting.
Straight from a short-lived career with FEU, Barroca relinquished the point guard role for Smart Gilas, defending bigger and tougher guards from abroad; he brought his tenacity, scoring, and speed into the mix as one of Toroman’s complete point guards.
And from being a third-stringer in San Mig Coffee two years ago, Barroca has solidified his name as one of the top guards in the league, having been crowned the latest PBA Philippine Cup Finals MVP.
Together, the three guards played their hearts out for the Red, White, and Blue; and that exposure paved way for their emergence as three fine backcourt players in the PBA.
Rappler: How does it feel to be part of a long developmental program?
Chris Tiu: I’m very grateful to be part of the pioneers. I’m proud of what the Gilas 2 boys have achieved. That has something to do with the quality and talent of basketball we have here. We fell a bit short during our time, but in a way we put the Philippines in the Asian basketball map.
JVee Casio: I’m very honored because the program started with us as the pioneers. It’s very special.
Mark Barroca: I feel happy because not everyone gets a chance to experience that. I’m glad to be a part of this team, going to other countries and your game just levels up. I got better especially boosting my confidence heading into the pro level.
Rappler: What’s your favorite moment while with Smart Gilas?
CT: There are a lot of moments like the Stankovic Cup, the Dubai Cup, but in the FIBA Asia where we finished second in our group beating Japan and Jordan, that’s the more memorable moment. We were ensured of a top 4. When we played the NBA all stars here, that’s a surreal moment.
JC: Everything is a very special moment with Gilas. It’s a special group of guys and I won’t let these memories go to waste.
MB: I love the travelling part. When you play overseas and you practice with the other guys. It has impacted my game in a positive way.
Rappler: What’s the best thing Coach Rajko Toroman taught you?
CT: The values he espoused and the discipline in every detail you do in practice. His favorite line is work as hard and as honest and always sacrifice yourself, your body for the good of the team. Those are the words I’ll always remember.
JC: Discipline. Even in our last dinner together, he still gave me some advice. Whatever he said to me, I’ll always remember that.
MB: Rajko told us to be ‘coachable.’ Even if he gets mad, just obey him and follow him because it’s for your benefit. I also do warm ups every morning even if there is no game; it’s something I’ve learned from him.
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 week as we look back at one of the best Philippine national basketball teams ever assembled.
Bookmark this page and tune in every week as we throw you back to Smart Gilas’ inspiring road towards basketball supremacy.
Part 7: The three musketeers
Part 8: Baracael cherishes ‘second life’ with Ginebra (coming out next week)
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