CLARK, PAMPANGA-No matter how Indonesia finishes in Group A, it was actually that first team to officially qualify for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup by virtue of it being the host nation. Whatever progress (or regress) the squad encounters in the ongoing qualifiers here just adds to its experience points when the tournament ensues in August.
Among the challenges the team must face is having to put up optimal performances sans American-Indonesian ace Brandon Jawato who is listed as "out indefinitely" after undergoing back surgery.
"Brandon Jawato had surgery on his back. He is in the process of recovering," according to Indonesia Head Coach Rajko Toroman in an email to ESPN5.com. "He is not practicing (on court). We think that he will start (training with the team) in the middle of July."
Jawato, a versatile 6'4" forward who gained regional acclaim by helping his club, the BTN CLS Knights, capture the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) title in 2019, has also had surgery in both knees during his days at the University of Hawaii but has remained relatively healthy prior to this setback.
In his lone game since being cleared to play as a local, Jawato barely missed a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Indonesia's 90-76 thrashing of fellow ASEAN nation Thailand during the November 2020 window in Bahrain.
"Our chances are not big (in this window)," Toroman lamented. "(The Philippines and Korea) are very talented and athletic with good shooters and they have size. Our chance (to win) is (against) Thailand."
The Thai contingent were the last team to arrive here and as of this writing are still awaiting the results of their mandatory RT-PCR tests. The team is scheduled to be cleared on Thursday morning and will be thrust into action on Saturday (June 19th) against the Koreans. The Indonesia-Thailand tiff opens the final day of competition here on Sunday (June 20th).
Thailand is winless in its four outings in the qualifiers thus far.
However, more intriguing for Toroman and the team is their intention to bring in a new naturalized player in time for the actual competition.
"We have (a new candidate). He is practicing in Jakarta, waiting for his passport," he said. "His name is Marques Bolden."
Bolden, 23, is a 6'10" center out of Duke University who had two brief stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first during the 2019-2020 COVID-19 ravaged NBA season as well as another uneventful run during the present season. He was also named Mr. Basketball for the state of Texas in 2016.
While he didn't churn out eye-popping numbers with the Blue Devils, he still earned solid experience backing up future NBA contributors such as Wendell Carter, Jr. and Marvin Bagley. Bolden was an interior specialist who started in 21 games for coach Mike Krzyzewski as a junior before going undrafted in 2019.
He averaged 1.7 blocks per contest in his final year at Duke and is now on his first overseas sortie since leaving the NBA G-League's Canton Charge.
Lester Prosper, Indonesia's current reinforcement, is of a similar build although he has showcased a wider array of offensive skillset-as evidenced by his short but fruitful stint in the PBA with Terrafirma and San Miguel in 2019. However, at age 32, Toroman could be leaning more towards the potential of what this incoming youngster could bring to the national team program.
Toroman has tinkered with this notion before with Smart Gilas in 2010 by bringing a then 22-year-old Milan Vucicevic as the team's probable naturalized player, although it was short-lived with the eventual arrival of veteran Marcus Douthit in 2011.
Toroman is hopeful that with the impending return of Jawato and the addition of Bolden, the pieces could begin to fall into place for Indonesia, especially with their co-hosting of the 2023 FIBA World Cup of Basketball on the horizon.
"It's (really) about hard work," he said. "We have to work more than the other teams. We have to put Bolden (into our) system and wait for Jawato (to become healthy)."