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In the last year and a half, Gilas Pilipinas has showcased lineups featuring professionals coming from the PBA, a mix of players from the PBA and cadets, and a selection of collegiate standouts from the top schools in the country.
The original Gilas program was conceptualized in 2008 with the vision of forming a group of the top amateurs players in the country and keeping them together until 2012. This was similar to the highly successful Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC) in the 1980s, the national team program coached by Ron Jacobs which produced Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, Yves Dignadice, among others.
The hope was that in 3 to 4 years, the Gilas squad would be ripe enough to earn a slot in the 2012 London Olympics. The last time the country qualified for the Olympics was in 1972 in Munich when the team bannered by Bogs Adornado, Danny Florencio, Freddie Webb, Manny Paner, Ed Ocampo, and Yoyong Martirez won 3 games to place 13th in the competition.
Rajko Toroman, the former assistant coach of the Yugoslavian national team and the architect of Iran’s ascension as the new Asian basketball power, was recruited by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to become the head coach of the Gilas national squad. The Serbian drillmaster’s marching order was to duplicate the impressive run he had with Team Melli in the Philippines.
Recognizing the need to shore up the team’s frontline, SBP considered some promising young frontliners to join the program: 7-foot Greg Slaughter, 6-foot-9 Japeth Aguilar, 6-foot-7 Magi Sison, 6-foot-7 Jason Ballesteros, 6-foot-6 Aldrech Ramos, 6-foot-7 Rabeh Al-Hussaini, 6-foot-5 Rico Maierhofer, and 6-foot-7 Terrell Teophile.
The SBP tendered to the players in its wish list offer sheets, which reportedly approximated some of the more lucrative contracts in the pro league.
Three-year deals were offered to the 10 priority prospects in the SBP radar: Slaughter, Al-Hussaini, Maierhofer, Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, Ryan Buenafe, Ogie Menor, JR Cawaling, JVee Casio, and Dylan Ababou. Those who received two-year offers were Ballesteros, Marcy Arellano, Mac Baracael, Rey Guevara, and RJ Jazul.
Al-Hussaini and Maierhofer shunned the invitation to join the Gilas program and decided to turn pro. Other Gilas prospects who did not accept SBP’s invitation were June Mar Fajardo, Nonoy Baclao, and Paul Lee.
Christian Standhardinger was also in the SBP recruitment radar but could not join as he was then still playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the US NCAA.
Two sharpshooters from the US NCAA, Marshall University team captain Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter of Cal State Fullerton, bolstered the firepower of the national team. Sean Anthony and Chris Banchero were also considered, but did not join the program.
Gilas 1.0 encountered some hiccups in its recruitment of a naturalized player to man the middle for the national team. CJ Giles and Jamal Sampson did not fit the character requirements of the squad and overstayed their welcome in the country.
Toroman also tried out a 6-foot-10 behemoth from his home country, Milan Vucicevic, but he was deemed too lumbering and slow for the fast-paced system the coaching staff was trying to instill in the team.
The SBP finally found a gem in Marcus Douthit, a 6-foot-10 center out of Providence College who was a second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The young men of Gilas 1.0 were regularly exposed to international competitions to toughen them up for the big mission of qualifying for the Olympics. Toroman brought his squad to tournaments in Indonesia, UAE, and Qatar, and pitched training camp in Serbia to subject the team to punishing, spartan-like training.
By the time the FIBA Asia Olympic qualifiers unfolded in Wuhan, China in 2011, only 8 players in the pool made the final lineup: Douthit, Tiu, Casio, Barroca, Aguilar, Baracael, Lassiter, and Lutz. Four players from the PBA reinforced the roster: Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Jimmy Alapag.
Only one automatic slot to the London Olympics was up for grabs in Wuhan. Unfortunately for Gilas Pilipinas, they lost in the semifinals to Jordan, a team coached by Tab Baldwin which the Philippines had beaten in the earlier round.
Douthit posted monster numbers as he led Gilas to a 4th place finish with his averages of 21.9 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 1.67 blocks. No other Gilas player averaged in double figures in points during the FIBA Asia as the second-highest scorer was Lassiter with 8.3 a game.
But Douthit’s performance was not given due recognition as Hamed Haddadi was chosen over him for the center spot in the Mythical Five at the end of the tournament. Haddadi normed 15.4 points and 11.4 boards but Iran failed to make the semifinals.
Twelve years since the seeds of a sustainable and sound national basketball team program were planted, Gilas Pilipinas tries to thrive even with different iterations of the national team, depending on the availability of players from both the professional and amateur ranks.
The original Gilas squad may have not have achieved the goal it set out to do, but its influence has been far-reaching as it laid the foundation for the Gilas Pilipinas national team as we know it today. – Rappler.com