SINCE the interest of the sporting community these days is in the forthcoming 27th Fiba Asia Men’s Championship, I immediately tried to arrange an interview with former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman when I bumped into Barako Bull alternate governor Raffy Casyao at a popular Chinese restaurant along West Avenue in Quezon City.
Toroman coached the Philippine team in that event two years ago in Wuhan, China, steering the Filipinos to a fourth place finish. It was the country’s most decent finish since 1987 when we also made it to No. 4.
Two years before that in 1985, we won the title in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, bannered by naturalized players Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Chip Engelland plus Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, Hector Calma and other aces from the Northern Consolidated squad.
Before the last Fiba Asia Championship, Toroman also mentored the Philippine team to the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010 where he managed to get them to the quarterfinals.
With his experience in international coaching, the very vocal Serbian coach would be a good resource for the many interesting questions I wanted to ask.
I know I’ve asked him about our chances in August, the event being held here on home ground and he said our chances are very good. Now why this is so, I’ll have to get back to my notes buried somewhere.
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I intended to ask Toroman that same question in my prospective interview. Unfortunately, Raffy said he is currently on vacation in Serbia.
Raffy said that Barako Bull had participated in the Al Shabab competition in Dubai last May and from there Toroman headed straight to Serbia.
“Rajko will be back on June 23. The team starts regular practice on June 24,” said Raffy, who added that a lot had been accomplished by Barako Bull in the Dubai jaunt.
“Rajko had a chance to fully evaluate our import Mike Singletary and see how he will blend with the team. We also had the opportunity to do our team building while in Dubai.”
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In the past, seldom was there a conference where the George Chua franchise did not figure in the semifinals. “In fact even in the 2012 season, we managed to wriggle into the Final Four in the second conference,” Raffy said.
“That will be the team’s target this conference. To make it to the semifinal round at least.”
Barako was second to last in the 2013 first and second conferences.
Raffy said Toroman is optimistic that with new acquisitions Ronjay Buenafe, Elmer Espiritu and Gilbert Buluran, they can do it.
“He believes we have the right ingredients. We are also set to sign up as import Singletary, who is returning on July 1,” Raffy said.
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Has he ever discussed this year’s Fiba Asia with Toroman, I asked Raffy.
“Well, he (Rajko) has often said that he is willing to help in whatever way he can if asked. He also often mentions that Chot (Reyes) is one lucky guy, because the Philippines is hosting the Fiba Asia and as such, we are given several privileges like choosing our group, for example, and our schedule. As early as now, he is giving Gilas a 50 percent chance to make it to the semis. Having the event staged on home ground makes a whole lot of difference, according to Rajko.”