MANILA - Former Gilas Pilipinas coach Rajko Toroman has no doubt that Philippine basketball is in good hands, especially after seeing the young squad compete in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in November 2020.
With the qualifying window taking place in the middle of the PBA All-Filipino Conference, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) sent an all-cadet squad to the Bahrain bubble last year. The young players took care of business, twice beating Thailand comfortably, 93-61 and 93-69, to stay unbeaten in Group A.
Toroman, who now coaches Indonesia, was suitably impressed with the young players' performance.
"I was very surprised with the quality of the team who played in the second window in Bahrain," Toroman said in an appearance on "Power and Play" on Saturday. "These kids are excellent. These kids are very athletic, very talented."
"They may not have experience like the pro players, but they have quality. That's an amazing team, that's the future of Philippine basketball," he added.
Several players impressed in the Bahrain window, including Dwight Ramos who torched Thailand for 20 points on perfect field goal shooting in the first game. In the second game, brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano combined for 33 points.
SBP will once again send an all-cadet team to the final window of the qualifiers next month in Clark, Pampanga, as well as to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia from June 29 to July 4.
Toroman believes they will continue to perform well despite a lack of experience at the professional level.
"I was really impressed and I was really surprised with the level of the team and how they played. They played with a lot of confidence, like they are ten years in the PBA," he said.
Moreover, he is confident that the cadets will develop into an even stronger side in the future, particularly if they add NBL-bound Kai Sotto and naturalization candidate Ange Kouame into the team.
"I think this team had a future, this team with Kai Sotto and a few other guys… With Kouame, with Kai Sotto and with these kids, young kids, I think that's a very competitive team in Asia," said Toroman.
In a way, Toroman feels gratified to see the Philippines put together a program similar to what he did in 2009 to 2011. Then, Toroman coached a team of collegiate stars anchored by naturalized player Marcus Douthit; they eventually placed fourth in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship.
He believes that up to now, it is still the best path for the Philippines to take.
"I think that's the best for the Philippine national team -- to have a lot of young players, a lot of prospects. Maybe, put two or three really great PBA players in the team," he said.
"But I think that mostly, it must be the young kids with Kai Sotto, Kouame, (who are) hungry to make something and expose themselves in Asia," he explained. "I think that's the best program that the Philippines in this moment can do."
Toroman's Indonesia squad will face off against the Philippines in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, scheduled for June 16-20 in Clark, Pampanga. Gilas Pilipinas has already beaten Indonesia, 100-70, in the first window of the qualifiers in February 2020.
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