Smart Gilas coach, skipper see Jones Cup medalBy June Navarro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA—Smart Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman and national team skipper Chris Tiu are confident of a medal finish in the highly competitive William Jones Cup set to begin Saturday at the Hsinchuang Stadium in Taipei.
But while Toroman thinks the PH five could land anywhere in the top three, Tiu is bidding to wind up second place at the least in the nine-team meet the Filipinos are using as gauge for the Fiba Asia Championship next month in Wuhan, China.
Except for China, Lebanon and Qatar, the toughest national squads in the Asian championship will compete in the Jones Cup, including reigning back-to-back Fiba Asia champion Iran, South Korea and Japan.
Smart Gilas had not defeated these countries even once since its three-year program geared toward the 2012 London Olympics started, but Toroman is keeping his hopes up.
“We’re hoping to finish in the top three even though we expect a tough field in the Jones Cup,” said Toroman.
The Nationals, who finished fourth behind champion Iran last year with a 3-3 record, are bound for Taipei today on board a Philippine Airlines flight. They will face Jordan in the opener tomorrow and United Arab Emirates on Sunday before taking a one-day rest.
“Coach Rajko thinks we have a chance at a top three finish but I’m confident we could be in the top two,” said Tiu.
The team’s confidence stems from its semifinal performance in the Fiba Asia Champions Cup two months ago and the Filipinos’ dignified stand against a stellar crew of NBA superstars in a recent exhibition match.
PBA stars Asi Taulava and Dondon Hontiveros will provide additional firepower to Smart Gilas mainstays Tiu, Marcus Douthit, JV Casio, Mac Baracael, Japeth Aguilar, Dylan Ababou, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Jason Ballesteros.
Also joining them in the Taipei joust are Smart Gilas finance officer Butch Antonio, assistant coaches Jude Roque, Oliver Bunyi, D’Jalma Arnedo and Charles Tiu and therapist Albert Rolle.
“This tournament would make us stronger in time for Fiba Asia because of the strong teams competing,” said Toroman.
The Asian championship set Sept. 15 to 25 automatically rewards the champion the lone continental seat for the Olympics while the second and third placers advance to the Fiba Olympic qualifying tournament for another chance to book a ticket to London.
After the one-day rest on Monday, the Filipinos will go through a rugged schedule of playing six straight games from Aug. 9 to 14 against South Korea, South Africa, Japan, Malaysia, host Chinese Taipei and Iran.
“They say Hamed Haddadi is playing so if he does, we’ll get to measure Iran’s full strength,” said Tiu.
The 7-foot-2 Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies won the Fiba Asia Championship MVP twice (2007 and 2009) on leading the Iranians to the crown.