WUHAN, China—Now that all posts are sufficiently manned, Smart Gilas Pilipinas has regained full strength and coach Rajko Toroman has shed off that troubled look.
Without dependable wing men Lassiter and Lutz, the Philippine five’s Serbian mentor was forced to improvise, sliding down power forward Ranidel De Ocampo to forward and giving more minutes to team captain Chris Tiu and Mac Baracael to fill the gap in the weak spots.
“We’ll be much better with these two players (Lutz and Lassiter) because they are starters,” said Toroman. “We lost a little bit of our rhythm because they didn’t play for three games.”
Lassiter and Lutz were on the sidelines when host China whipped Smart Gilas in the first round.
“I was forced to change everything and it was not easy,” said Toroman. “There’s a system that we’ve been working on for years and if you change the system, we’re dead. That happened to us in the first three games.”
The 6-foot-2 Lassiter torched the Jordanians with four three-pointers and, together with Lutz, provided defensive stability for the Nationals in containing Jordan’s naturalized shooting guard Rasheim Wright, who missed his last nine shots.
Lassiter and Lutz were prevented from playing after Fiba Asia officials, citing rules of the international federation, considered them naturalized players.
Fiba secretary general Patrick Baumann, however, overruled Fiba Asia.
Carrying a clearance from Fiba, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan insisted on the right of Lassiter and Lutz to play after organizers again barred them from playing 15 minutes before tip-off.
Seven minutes into the first quarter, Pangilinan gave Toroman the go-signal and both players finally made their debut in the Asian championship, which offers a lone continental berth to the London Olympics next year.
“Defensively, they’re the heart of our team,” said Toroman of the two Fil-Ams. “We’re so good defensively with this two guys.
“I think time is working for us. Every game we’ll get better and better because of this situation.”