Gilas Pilipinas is set for an uphill battle in August at the FIBA World Cup but Rajko Toroman says Gilas has a clear path to beating one of the two European powerhouses matched with in Group D.
Toroman said Italy might be a beatable target for Gilas if they catch them slumping in the tournament opener on August 31. The former Philippine national team coach was on ESPN5's SportsCenter Philippines Tuesday evening to talk about Gilas and Mighty Sports. The two teams will scrimmage on Monday.
"I think there's a bigger chance to beat Italy than Serbia. Italy has two NBA players, (Marco) Belinelli who is a bit older and (Danilo) Gallinari, but they have some Euroleague players as well. But if I see some chance, that's definitely Italy," Toroman said. "But also, Italy must not have a good day and the Philippines must play great."
World No. 4 Serbia, on the other hand, will be a harder draw due to its sheer depth and the presence of Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who just came off his best season in the NBA.
"They will play with five NBA players and seven Euroleague players. They will have Nikola Jokic, who is officially the best big man in the NBA. I've always said that this guy broke all the NBA rules that you have to be tall, athletic, quick. He's the total opposite of that. But he's the smartest guy and he's an excellent, excellent player," Toroman said.
Dropping both games against the two Euro giants will end Gilas' hopes of advancing to the knockout stages, but Toroman thinks that it wouldn't be the worst thing for the Philippines if that happens.
"It's very difficult. I said that if the Philippines will not qualify for the next round, nobody has to be disappointed. Why? Because they are playing two very good teams from Europe," he said.
The 64-year-old coach is in town to assist Mighty Sports' preparations for the Jones Cup in Taipei next month. Talent clearly won't be an issue with former PBA imports Renaldo Balkman and Eugene Phelps on the roster, but he said that the team still has to get in game-shape.
"We have a good team, but still we have to build up our chemistry because all the guys are only in the Philippines only when the PBA is ongoing," said Toroman. "All these guys came in different shapes and we have to make adjustments. We need to work on that. We think we are the best, but that doesn't mean we'll win the competition because we have to make a real team."
One of Mighty Sports' tuneup games will be against Gilas on Monday.
"For me it's exciting. It's exciting to play a team which I think I belonged partly to. That's my five years of my life that I spent year. I had a great time with Gilas. It's always exciting for me to see the games and also to face them," he said.