MANILA—Serbian coach Rajko Toroman knows enough about Philippine basketball and its national team program to believe that Gilas Pilipinas will be "very competitive" in the upcoming 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Toroman's team, Mighty Sports, figured in a tune-up against Gilas Pilipinas on Monday night, with the game ending in an 85-all tie. For Gilas, it was their first tune-up ahead of the World Cup; for Mighty Sports, it was part of their preparation for the upcoming Jones Cup that starts on July 24.
Mighty Sports had taken a 6-point lead, 85-79, with under 2 minutes left, but clutch triples by Marcio Lassiter and CJ Perez, along with a tough defensive stand by Gilas in the final 15 seconds, ensured that the game ended level.
Toroman felt that it would be "very, very difficult to judge" Gilas Pilipinas on the basis of 1 game, especially as some of the players had played in the PBA just the night before. Still, it was clear to the Serbian coach that this edition of Gilas has plenty of promise.
"You know, they have great shooters. All of them, they are great shooters," said Toroman, who handled the first version of Gilas back in 2009 to 2011. "And with (Andray) Blatche, you can stretch the floor."
"That will be very, very competitive team. They have quickness. They are very aggressive. They have everything," he added. "Kiefer (Ravena) will come back. It will be a big help also for Philippines national team, for Gilas."
Toroman, who famously steered Iran to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, has closely observed Philippine basketball even after he stopped coaching Gilas Pilipinas. On Monday night, he stressed that the country's basketball program is steadily improving, and he expects them to make some noise in the World Cup.
"You know, they have really good players, a country of good players, and it’s a powerful basketball country now in Asia. And with one import, they will be very competitive," he predicted.
The Philippines got a bit of a tough draw, Toroman noted, as they were grouped with Serbia, Italy and Angola in the group stages.
"They play against Serbia, which, I think they're coming with the best team, maybe in the last 20, 25 years," Toroman said. "You know they have 5 NBA players. Also, Italy is strong."
"But everything is possible. I think that the chance is against Italy than against Serbia," he added.
Still, Toroman warns that playing Italy and Serbia will be a massive step-up in competition for the Philippines.
"European teams will be on a higher level than Asian teams. Maybe Australia will be competitive with European teams," said Toroman, who said Gilas will have to play an "excellent game" in order to have a chance against Italy.
"Whenever you play, you have a chance to win. But also, I think that nobody have to be disappointed here if Philippines don't reach the next round because it's really tough, the competition there," he added.
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