It did not come as a surprise at all for Rajko Toroman that the youth-laden Gilas Pilipinas was able to pull off a thrilling victory over long-time tormentor South Korea in their 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers encounter, Wednesday evening.
“Yesterday’s game was exciting for everybody here. The Philippines played a great game,” the former national team mentor said the day after the 81-78 win.
“A lot of people are asking me if it’s a big surprise, I said for me it’s not.”
That’s because the current Indonesia chief mentor already knew what the new-age Filipino dribblers are capable of doing, as he was able to witness the team first-hand during the previous window in Manama, Bahrain, last November.
His team did not meet Gilas in that tilt, but he saw how Gilas dominated a Thailand side made up of pros in the two games they played there.
And the players he watched there were also part of the 12-man crew that beat Korea — Isaac Go, Dwight Ramos, Jaydee Tungcab, Mike Nieto, William Navarro, Justine Baltazar, and Javi Gomez de Liano.
Completing the squad were Kai Sotto, naturalized center Ange Kouame, Carl Tamayo, RJ Abarrientos, and SJ Belangel, the one who sank the off-balanced three-pointer at the buzzer that also sent Gilas to the Asia Cup proper.
“I saw this team in Bahrain and I said that’s a very talented and athletic team. Now they added Kai Sotto and are looking like a very good team,” he offered as the 7-foot-4 slotman had 11 points and seven rebounds in the win.
Now, Toroman and Indonesia will finally have a crack at this young Gilas squad on Friday in the battle of Southeast Asia.
Timnas just suffered a harsh 81-104 beatdown in the hands of the Koreans Thursday, and so it heads into the anticipated matchup with so much motivation to bounce back at the expense of its long-time rivals.
“Tomorrow, we’ll try to push them to the limit. That’s our goal,” the Serbian coach said.
“At this moment, I think that they are favorites, they are better than us, but you know … we will do everything to give them a hard time.”