After eight long years, Mark Barroca will once again have a chance to don the country's colors as he was included in the 14-man Gilas Pilipinas pool of coach Yeng Guiao for the final window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Barroca was one of the pioneers of the program as he played in the first iteration of the team, which was then called Smart-Gilas. The Manny V. Pangilinan-backed squad followed the model of Northern Cement in the 1980s as they enlisted a bunch of amateur players to be the core. They finished sixth in the 2010 Asian Games and fell short of their goal to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics as they landed fourth in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan.
After the group graduated from the program, they dominated the 2011 PBA Draft. JVee Casio, Chris Lutz, Marcio Lassiter, Barroca, Mac Baracael, Jason Ballesteros, and Dylan Ababou were all selected in the first round leaving Paul Lee, Allein Maliksi, and Reil Cervantes as the only non-Gilas members in the first ten.
Now with six PBA championships and two Finals MVPs under his belt and fresh off helping the Magnolia Hotshots win the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup, the 32-year-old Barroca is out to prove that he can still compete internationally.
"I was not expecting to be given the chance to be a part of the national team again so I'm thankful that coach Yeng Guiao gave me the chance," Barroca said after their first meeting Monday at the Ynares Sports Center in Pasig. "Playing internationally before starting my PBA career was important to me because of the experience and lessons that I learned going up against some of the best guards in Asia. I'm not getting any younger so I think now is the perfect time to do it again."
Barroca is one of only a handful of players who have been in the league for more than seven years and still be with the team that drafted him. He admits that he's relishing the opportunity to play alongside the best players in the PBA.
"Everyone in the PBA wants to know what it's like to play alongside June Mar Fajardo so I'm looking forward to that," the Magnolia guard said. "I'm also excited to be teammates with Jayson Castro because he's one of the players who I really look up to. I like how he leads his team both in the PBA and in FIBA."
TNT KaTropa and Gilas trainer Dex Aseron, who was already working with the team back when Barroca was still playing, wasn't surprised that the guard got another shot.
"He's a hard worker then and he's a hard worker now," said the trainer. "I think that's what makes him a special player because even with all that he has accomplished in the PBA, his work ethic has not changed. He's still as hungry as he was eight years ago."
Barroca's Smart-Gilas teammate Lassiter agrees with Aseron.
"There were a lot of players in the team that I knew were going to be great in the PBA. Greg (Slaughter) with his size. Chris (Tiu) with his intelligence and leadership. Even Mac (Baracael) was getting big numbers for us in the power forward position," Lassiter recalled. "Mark is a tenacious guard on both ends. He can lead you in scoring and also be your stopper on the other side and we don't really see that a lot. He has always worked hard and I'm not in any way surprised that he turned out to be successful in the PBA and that he's getting another shot at being a part of the national team."
Barroca is joined by Roger Pogoy and Andray Blatche as the only new members in Guiao's squad. The group will have to hit the ground running as the next window is fast coming up.
"There's a lot of pressure because we will be playing two must-win games so there's a lot of work to be done," Barroca said. "We have to trust the coaches and do everything they demand from us because we want to qualify for the FIBA World Cup. I know I have a lot to catch up on but I've been watching every time Gilas plays so I hope I learn the system as soon as possible."