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    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Ryko Toroman Says RP 5 Will Be A Strong Team

    Source: Philstar.com

    Smart-Gilas coach Rajko Toroman said yesterday if the national team is reinforced by key PBA players and American import Marcus Douthit, it will be a strong contender for a medal at the Guangzhou Asian Games this November.

    “It all depends on the support we get,” said Toroman whose claim to fame is earning for Iran a ticket to the Bejing Olympics by capturing the FIBA-Asia title in 2007. “We are waiting for passports to make Chris Lutz and Marcus eligible. We are also hoping the PBA allows Asi Taulava, James Yap and Kelly Williams to play for us. I think with Chris (Tiu) and James starting in the backcourt, we’ll be very competitive and the whole country will be behind us. If we put our best team on the floor, we’ll be in contention for the championship.”

    Lutz, a Fil-Am sharp-shooting guard from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, is expected to receive his Philippine passport as a dual citizen next week. Douthit’s application for naturalization is pending in Congress. FIBA rules allow a national team to suit up one naturalized player, like Jackson Vroman for Lebanon and Rasheim Wright for Jordan.

    Toroman stopped short of guaranteeing a gold medal if the PBA lends the three players and the Department of Foreign Affairs delivers the two passports.

    “We’re not so far from first place,” said Toroman. “We’re now competing at a higher level, based on what we showed in the recent Stankovic Cup. I rank Iran and Lebanon in front of China in Asia. And we’re now competitive against Lebanon.”

    Toroman recalled how Smart-Gilas nearly toppled Lebanon in the Stankovic Cup semifinals in Beirut last month. Lebanon won, 81-80, with Fadi El-Khatib scoring 25 and Vroman 23. Smart-Gilas played without Lutz, Douthit and Greg Slaughter.

    New Zealand coach Nenad Vucinic, a Serbian like Toroman, said he was surprised by the Philippines’ showing against Lebanon.

    “He studied our game against Lebanon to prepare for the World Championships and noticed how our players had improved to the next level,” said Toroman. “It wasn’t like Lebanon didn’t play well because they did.”

    Toroman said if the Philippines made it to the FIBA World Championships in Turkey, anything could’ve happened.

    “We beat Jordan in the Stankovic Cup and before that, in the finals of the Manila invitationals and in Turkey, Jordan could’ve reached the round-of-16 except it lost to Australia by one and Argentina by nine,” said Toroman. “We almost beat Lebanon in the Stankovic semifinals but in Turkey, Lebanon beat Canada by 10. If we’re competitive against Jordan and Lebanon, then we should also be competitive against Australia, Argentina and Canada. I’m very satisfied with our progress. We’re clearly playing at a new level.”

    In Guangzhou, Toroman said it’s anybody’s game. Jordan is losing Portuguese coach Mario Palma and will be in a period of transition. China will be toothless without Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian who are contractually bound to play in the NBA. Vroman may opt out of Lebanon if a lucrative offer comes to play in the Euro league. Hamed Haddadi will be with Memphis in the NBA and Arsalan Kazemi will return to Rice University in Houston but Iran hopes to welcome back this year’s Jones Cup MVP Samad Nikkhah Bahrami who sat out the World Championships with a knee injury.

    “China is hosting the coming Asian Games but they don’t have a strong team anymore without Yao,” said Toroman. “They couldn’t beat Iran in the last FIBA-Asia championships which China hosted in Tianjin. They were lucky to enter the round-of-16 in Istanbul even after losing to Turkey by 47. Nobody expected Puerto Rico to lose to Ivory Coast and China qualified because Puerto Rico lost.”

    For the 2014 World Championships in Madrid, there is a proposal to increase the Asian qualifiers from three to six and the entry list from 24 to 32 or 36. If the proposal is approved, the Philippines will surely return to the World Championships for the first time since hosting the quadrennial event in 1978. In Turkey, the three Asian qualifiers are Iran, China and Jordan with Lebanon joining with a wild card ticket.

    FIBA allocated four wild card slots for Turkey and received 14 applications each paying a fee of $650,000. The four wild card countries that joined 20 others in the main draw were Lebanon, Lithuania, Germany and Russia. Among the countries that paid but weren’t chosen were Korea, England, Nigeria and Cameroon.

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