Moments after Gilas Pilipinas’ tune-up game with Mighty Sports, Rajko Toroman went to the far corner of the Meralco Gym to talk to Marcio Lassiter. A few seconds later, Mark Barroca joined them as they glanced through Toroman’s phone, showing pictures of his family in Serbia.
“Masaya kasi nga nakita namin si Coach Rajko. Siya nag-sabi na mag-picture kami para for remembrance,” said Barroca.
Time really flies by so fast.
Ten years ago, Toroman and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas recruited the top amateur players of the country to play full-time for SMART Gilas Pilipinas.
Barroca, then just 22 years old and as wide-eyed as one can be after a shock move to forego his final year with Far Eastern University, was immediately brought up to the national team and be one of the team’s pillars.
Lassiter, on the other hand, had just graduated from Cal State Fullerton. He, together with the fellow Fil-foreigner Chris Lutz, were immediately sent out for battle.
“That voice is definitely something that is familiar. I heard that for years,” expressed Lassiter. “You know, it’s just a great thing to see your former national team coach.
“He’s always there to be a father figure and he’s a great mentor.”
The team that consisted of the country’s top amateur players would go around the world to train and compete for flag and country.
Though the goal of making the Olympics was never reached during Toroman’s three-year term, the foundation for the program was developed and cultivated. They were ready to be harvested.
And it’s all because of Toroman.
“For me, it was really good to be part of. It’s an honor,” expressed Lassiter.
“To see him start it off for the Gilas program, we didn’t know how this program would start but look at it now. So many years later, it’s still going on. It’s a lot to thank for him. It was something special that I will always remember,” he continued.
“He will hold a special place for everyone.”
Since his stint in the Philippines that ended in 2013, Toroman became the head coach of Jordan’s national team, clubs Tianjin Ronggang and Al-Muharraq, and now, Indonesia.
“I’m very happy. I always watch, even I was not here. Six years, almost six years, I’m following them,” said the 64-year-old Toroman.
“I’m watching the games of the PBA and I’m glad when I see the guys, which I was working with here.”
Since then, Barroca has become a six-time PBA champion and a two-time Finals MVP while Lassiter has become a seven-time PBA champion while being known as the country’s best knockdown shooter.
And yes, the two are still with Gilas Pilipinas.
Though the Philippines has yet to reach the Olympics since Toroman left, the Philippines has become an Asian power in basketball. From being banned by the International Basketball Federation a decade ago, the Philippines is now 31st in the world, fourth in Asia, in Men’s Basketball.
“I think that at this time, they have more international exposure, they’re participating in a lot of international tournament. And also the PBA and the SBP have better relations and everybody are on the same page. And I think that’s the most important thing for Philippine basketball — that everybody’s on the same page, that everybody supports the Gilas and I think that’s how they can succeed it,” opined Toroman.
“I said it before — at this moment, the Philippines is a powerful basketball country in Asia, one of the best. And I think that they can just improve. Philippine basketball is going up.”
This could not have been made possible without the sacrifices of Toroman and the young kids of Gilas Pilipinas 1.0.