MANILA, Philippines – No less than Serbian mentor Rajko Toroman – who steered Iran to the 2007 FIBA Asia title – proclaimed the Philippine team to be similar to the East Asian country’s squad, minus 7-foot-2 behemoth Hamad Haddadi.
According to Toroman, who anchored the Iranians to their first Olympics appearance in 40 years, the Philippines is just as competitive and athletic as Iran, although they lack a dominant big to man the middle.
With that, Smart Gilas Pilipinas started its long hunt for a naturalization candidate who would best fit the program and help the team reach new heights.
American CJ Giles – who went undrafted in the 2008 NBA Draft – was the first candidate, joining the all-amateur Smart Gilas squad during their maiden voyage in the 2009 FIBA Asia Champions Cup, where the team finished fifth overall.
Hobbled by injuries, Giles continued playing until the Gilas-guested 2010 PBA Philippine Cup. Giles parted ways, and was last in the Philippines for FIBA Asia in 2013 representing Bahrain.
His replacement, Jamal Sampson, played in the 2010 Dubai International Basketball Tournament where Smart Gilas finished with the bronze. However, he also played limited minutes before getting waived.
The Gilas staff also eyed NBA D-League prospect Dwyane Jones before the NBA D-League big man signed a contract with the Phoenix Suns.
Serbian center Milan Vucicevic was the next candidate to showcase his wares, although his stint with the Smart Gilas squad in the 2010 FIBA Asia Champions Cup ended in disappointment. The nation finished with a 1-3 record in the preliminaries and wound up in 7th place.
No doubting Douthit
After several failed attempts to land a prospect for naturalization, another American Marcus Douthit seemed to fit the Smart Gilas system when he first suited up in June 2010, as part of the Manny V. Pangilinan-sponsored pocket tournament.
The nation defeated Jordan, a club team from China, and two PBA squads, Ginebra and Talk ‘N Text, in the meet, with Douthit making his presence felt down low. There was no doubting his talent, skill, and desire to play for the Red, White, and Blue.
With the basketball program liking the results, Douthit’s naturalization papers were sponsored by Congressman Robbie Puno, and was successfully transformed into a law seven months after.
Douhtit, a Los Angeles Laker draftee, proved to be the Philippines’ pillar of strength, especially inside the paint. In the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, he led the league in both scoring (21.9 PPG) and rebounding (12.2) although he missed the Mythical 5 award.
Smart Gilas finished 4th, falling just two wins away from the Olympics. But there was nothing to lose as it was the nation’s first semis appearance in over two decades.
In 2013, he played hurt but managed to survive in each match, showing the country his undying passion for a sport we truly love. He helped Gilas bag the silver and, more importantly, make the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
Now turning 34 years old soon, Douthit still serves the country as center of Gilas Pilipinas.
(RELATED: #Puso: Kuya Marcus leads by example)
Rappler: How does it feel to be a part of a long developmental program?
Marcus Douthit: It feels good because everything that happened since day one is pretty much history. The situation that I’m in, the program is going up so it feels great to be part of it.
Rappler: What is your favorite moment while with Gilas?
MD: There are so many but my favorite is definitely the one in August (FIBA Asia 2013). Hopefully there will be more moments to come.
Rappler: What is the best thing coach Rajko Toroman told you?
MD: The thing about coach Rajko is he never let his players settle; he always demanded the best. That is what I do every game.
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.
Primer: The Smart Gilas boys: 5 years after http://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/basketball/gilas-pilipinas/48035-smart-gilas-boys-5-years-after
Part 1: Lutz and Lassiter: Petron’s two of a kind http://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/basketball/gilas-pilipinas/48702-lutz-lassiter-petron-two-kind-smart-gilas-boys
Part 2: Slaughter and Aguilar: Ginebra’s twin towers http://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/basketball/49113-slaughter-aguilar-ginebra-twin-towers-smart-gilas-boys
Part 3: A tale of two Tamaraws http://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/basketball/gilas-pilipinas/50536-a-tale-of-two-tamaraws-the-smart-gilas-boys
Part 8: A ‘second life’ for Mac Baracael http://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/basketball/53476-never-say-die-mac-baracael-smart-gilas-boys-8
Part 9: Searching for a naturalized big
Part 10: The Dominicans (Coming out next week)
Part 11: The Pioneers
Check back again next week for the latest story here on The Smart Gilas boys: 5 years after. – Rappler.com