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Revisiting the national teams in the PBA (Part 2): The Joe Lipa, Derick Pumaren and Rajko Toroman eras

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Jolas and the national team (4:29)

Jojo Lastimosa describes the process of trying out for the national team in 1986, and meeting guys named Alvin and Samboy. (4:29)

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has invited the Gilas Pilipinas cadet team to play in the upcoming Philippine Cup that will usher in Season 46 this April 2021. The gesture is a welcome development as it not only puts the young cadets in the spotlight that will make them household names, but it will also spur their progress and development as a team as they build up for the 2021 FIBA-Asia Cup and ultimately, the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio has lauded this move and thanked the PBA for extending its assistance to the national cause. While there is no confirmation yet from the SBP if the team will participate, there are positive signs that they will.

Not counting the 1998 Centennial and the 2002 Selecta national all-pro teams that participated in the 1998 Centennial Cup and the 2002 Governors' and Commissioner's Cups, respectively, there have been 10 PBA conferences when an all-amateur national team participated as a guest team. Recent interviews of former national players on the podcast An Eternity of Basketball revealed that their PBA stint played a pivotal role in speeding up the cohesion and development process.

In this two-part series, we'll look back at how these national teams performed in the PBA. The first part covered the four PBA conferences participated in by the RP-NCC teams of Ron Jacobs. This is the second part, and covers the national teams of Joe Lipa, Derick Pumaren and Rajko Toroman.

RP-Magnolia Team - 1986 All Filipino Conference (7th place)

Roster: Alvin Patrimonio, Ronnie Magsanoc, Jojo Lastimosa, Elmer Reyes, Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Dindo Pumaren, Eric Altamirano, Glenn Capacio, Harmon Codiñera, Jerry Codiñera, Jack Tanuan.

Coach: Joe Lipa

After a turbulent political year that started with the snap elections that moved into the historic EDSA Revolution in February 1986, the BAP decided to dissolve the NCC national team as its benefactor, Danding Cojuangco, went on exile. Forced to field a team for the Asian Games slated in September, then-BAP President Lito Puyat announced the appointment of Joe Lipa as head coach sometime in May. With less than four months to prepare, Lipa formed a roster made up of top players from the Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) and standouts from the UAAP and NCAA, as well as veterans from the defunct NCC national team. To enable them to play against quality competition while developing chemistry, the team decided to play as a guest team in the PBA All Filipino Second Conference that was to start in July and end just three weeks before the Asian Games.

The RP-Magnolia squad lost a couple of close games to Shell, 100-98, with Samboy Lim pouring 34 points, and Alaska, 117-112, before pulling off its first and only win against Ginebra, 97-88. They suffered their biggest loss against eventual champions, the Mon Fernandez-powered Tanduay Rhum, 117-90, then lost to Manila Beer, 104-92, followed by a heartbreaking defeat to Great Taste, 109-108, that saw Allan Caidic waxing hot with 35 points. The loss to the Coffeemakers was particularly painful as a win would have carried them over to the quarterfinals. Instead, they ended up with a 1-5 card, and played a knockout game against Alaska for the last QF seat. They fought to the end, only to lose to the expansion but veteran-laden Alaska Milkmen, 100-96, to finish their PBA campaign.

The team then went to Seoul and became one of the most unforgettable national teams in the modern era. They started off well, beating darkhorse Japan, 81-78, before pulling off a rout against hapless Hong Kong, 109-75. They faced the heavily-favored Chinese team for their third game and couldn't keep up with their taller opponents, losing 112-84. The Philippines recovered three days later with an easy 90-74 victory over Kuwait - a fitting warmup to their next game against rivals, host South Korea. In that battle, the Sokors jumped to an early lead, but the Philippines fought back and kept the game close despite being in front of a hostile crowd and contending with calls favoring the hosts. In the final seconds of the game and the RP Team down, 103-102, Caidic got hold of possession and spearheaded a fastbreak. He went for the layup but was called for a charge despite replays showing the Sokor player not having established defensive position. Despite the loss, the Filipino heroes ended the tournament on a positive note, beating Malaysia, 84-68, and Jordan, 83-81, to win the bronze medal.

While their PBA stint may have been forgettable, credit must be given to the squad aptly described as the Golden Bronze team for their heroic performance in the Asian Games. Given that they only had a few months to prepare, the one-month, seven-game experience in the PBA provided them with the competitive spirit to go toe-to-toe with their more favored Asian rivals.

RP Team - 1987 PBA Open Conference (7th place)

Roster: Joey Mendoza, Ronnie Magsanoc, Jojo Lastimosa, Joey Guanio, Alvin Patrimonio, Bong Alvarez, Dindo Pumaren, Nelson Asaytono, Glenn Capacio, Benjie Paras, Jerry Codiñera, Zaldy Realubit.

Coach: Joe Lipa

Coming off an impressive stint as head coach of the "Golden Bronze" team in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games when it won the bronze medal, Coach Joe Lipa was the toast of the basketball community. He was immediately reappointed by the then Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) as national team mentor for the 1987 ABC tournament to be held in Bangkok in November that year. Lipa was eventually hired as head coach of the Formula Shell Spark Aiders at the start of the 3rd Conference but could only join the team after the ABC.

The Open Conference kicked off the 1987 season with the RP Team featured as a guest team to help them prepare for the ABC. Having to go up against teams reinforced by imports with a height ceiling of 6'6, the amateurs had to contend with top-tiered recruits like David Thirdkill, Michael Young, Michael Hackett, Norman Black, Francois Wise, and Calvin Thompson.

The nationals made an auspicious debut, trouncing the tournament favorite Tanduay Rhum Makers, 112-107, with Alvin Patrimonio leading the charge with 31 points. After suffering back-to-back shellackings from Magnolia and Great Taste, the RP Team pulled out a 100-99 squeaker against Shell to pull even at .500. By then, the imports were already establishing their presence and establishing chemistry with their respective teams; the nationals lost their next eight games to end up with a 2-10 card, tying Shell at the cellar. They still had a chance to crack the quarterfinal round in a knockout game against the Spark Aiders, but they lost, 120-111, and eventually got eliminated. Lastimosa had a career game, knocking down 32 points, in a 120-117 loss to Ginebra.

The team then went to Jakarta in September for their gold medal-retention bid in the SEA Games and ended up undefeated to win the Philippines' fifth men's basketball gold medal in six SEA Games stints. The victory was a major boost as Lipa announced the team's readiness for the ABC. The team topped the preliminaries by beating Jordan and India, but lost in a close game against China, 97-94, that saw the Philippines coming back from a double-digit deficit in the first half. The loss, though, resulted in a semifinal showdown against South Korea. Led by stalwarts Lee Chung Hee and Hur Jae, the Sokors ripped the Filipinos, 105-88. Disheartened by the loss, they lost the bronze medal game to Japan, 89-75, to end the tournament in fourth place. Patrimonio took consolation by earning a Mythical Selection alongside South Korea's Hur Jae and Lee, Sun Fengwu, and Zhang Bin of eventual gold medalists, China.

The PBA stint not only made superstars out of these amateur players but also clearly established that they were ready to join the pros, particularly Patrimonio, Lastimosa, Capacio, and Codiñera. True enough, the year after, when new team Purefoods was given the concession to hire four amateur players directly, it immediately took in these four to make up the first core of what is now one of the most successful franchises in league history.

Philippine Team - 1988 All Filipino Conference (7th place)

Roster: Peter Aguilar, Renato Agustin, Paul Alvarez, Nelson Asaytono, Elmer Cabahug, Romeo Dela Rosa, Hernani Demegillo, Peter Jao, Ricardo Marata, Ferdinand Pumaren, Rizaldy Realubit, Jerry Ruiz.

Coach: Frederick Pumaren

There was no major international tournament for 1988 as both the ABC and the SEAG would be held the year after. Meanwhile, the Asian Interclub just concluded in Jakarta and a PABL selection sponsored by RFM-Swift was formed at the last hour to allow the Philippines to defend its Interclub title, last held and won in 1984 by the NCC team. They succeeded in retaining the title, repeating over China, 84-69.

Seven players from the PABL selection were chosen to be part of the Philippine Team that was preparing for the next year's ABC and SEA Games. These were Aguilar, Agustin, Alvarez, Asaytono, Cabahug, Demegillo, and Marata. The BAP appointed multiple PABL champion coach Derick Pumaren to take over Joe Lipa's role as mentor. Pumaren then added Dela Rosa, Jao, his younger brother, Dindo, Realubit, and Ruiz to the final roster that was to play in the PBA as a guest team in the 1988 All Filipino Conference.

The nationals had an impressive debut in the opening game of the conference, toppling Shell, 105-97, in the first game of a doubleheader. Back-to-back losses to defending champions Great Taste, 114-100, and Alaska, 130-108, put the Philippine team in the middle of the pack with a 1-2 card. But Pumaren's boys roared back with an upset over heavily-favored Purefoods, 111-101, squaring themselves at 2-2, while putting the Hotdogs at .500 with a 3-3 record. It was downhill from there, as the team lost five in a row, before pulling off an impressive 146-113 repeat over Shell under new coach Charlie Favis. They ended their campaign with losses to San Miguel and Añejo, finishing with a 3-9 card.

While the BAP may have been proactive when it opted to prepare the national team one year in advance, the effort went for naught though as the bulk of the team eventually joined the PBA Draft the succeeding year. All but Jao were part of what was perhaps the greatest draft class in PBA history. As such, Coach Pumaren had no recourse but to put up a different team for the SEA Games and the ABC. The results in both tournaments were disastrous: a silver medal in Kuala Lumpur and an eighth-place finish in Beijing.

Philippine Team - 1989 All Filipino Conference (no placing)

Roster: Zandro Limpot, Jr. Gerry Esplana, Peter Jao, Carlito Mejos, Vergel Meneses, Stevenson Solomon, Larry Villanil, Bonel Balingit, Gilbert Reyes, Jr., Johnedel Cardel, Victor Pablo, Edgardo Postanes.

Coach: Frederick Pumaren

1989 was a terrible year for Philippine basketball in the international arena. Saddled with a decimated lineup as the top talents in the PABL opted to turn pro, Coach Derick Pumaren re-jigged his lineup made up of younger players from the PABL, the UAAP, and the NCAA. Given the lack of time to prepare, the national team decided to play as a guest team in the PBA All Filipino Conference but had to leave at the end of the first round because the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur and the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) tournament were held in the latter part of the conference.

Playing in only six games, the nationals ended up with a 0-6 card, suffering losses to Presto (124-113), Shell (151-124), San Miguel (126-101), Purefoods (132-91), Alaska (125-114), and Añejo (124-99) in a frenetic 13-day schedule. Losing by an average margin of 23.3 points per game certainly didn't help boost the confidence of the players, but given the circumstances that time, playing as one unit while facing the pros helped in achieving a certain level of cohesion and chemistry.

As hosts, Malaysia took advantage of the short tournament format when all five teams were to play against each other in a single round robin and the team with the best win-loss record declared as gold medalists. The Philippines struggled in the first game by barely eking out a 97-93 win over Thailand, but succumbed to the hosts the next day, 107-99. The nationals vented their ire on Indonesia, 91-65 and Singapore, 113-74, to finish the tournament with a 3-1 record. After the Indonesia game, Coach Pumaren already knew that no mathematical configuration in the quotient system would make the Philippines win the gold, unless Indonesia and Thailand pulled off miraculous wins against the hosts. Malaysia eventually formalized this with a 104-86 thrashing of Thailand to finish the tournament with an immaculate 4-0 slate.

Barely three weeks after the SEA Games debacle, the same team went to Beijing for the ABC tournament. The team started strong, clobbering Bangladesh, 150-52, then whipping Hongkong, 115-83. They fell by the wayside against the Chinese-Taipei team, 97-74, falling behind by 15 points at the half. It was downhill from there, as they lost to China, 118-73, Japan, 86-67, and Iran 93-86, to relegate the team to the battle for seventh place. The nationals suffered a heartbreaking 91-89 overtime loss to Saudi Arabia to end up eighth place - at that time, the worst finish ever by a Philippine team in the biennial event.

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Caidic and the 1986 Asian Games

Even though Allan Caidic was called for a dubious foul in a semifinal game against South Korea, the Philippines went on to win a "golden bronze" in the 1986 Asian Games.

Smart-Gilas - 2009-10 Philippine Cup

Roster: CJ Giles, Chris Tiu, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Japeth Aguilar, Mark Barroca, JV Casio, Dylan Ababou, Mac Baracael, Aldrech Ramos, JR Cawaling, Jason Ballesteros, Magi Sison.

Coach: Rajko Toroman

A quiet storm was already brewing when Smart-Gilas formalized its entry as one of the eleven teams set to play in the PBA Philippine Cup that debuted in October 2009. A few days before the start of the season, the same Smart-Gilas team that was to take over national team duties embarrassed the Yeng Guiao-mentored Powerade Philippine national team that had recently placed eighth in the FIBA-Asia Championship in Tianjin, China, 98-69, in a benefit game for Typhoon Ondoy victims at the Araneta Coliseum.

Then, after playing on opening day for the Burger King Whoppers in a loss to Purefoods, 93-80, top rookie pick Japeth Aguilar wanted to leave the Lina franchise and rejoin the national squad. Team manager Lito Alvarez and head coach Guiao decided to trade Aguilar, his rights landing with Talk 'N Text, who loaned him to Smart-Gilas.

When Burger King faced the nationals five days into the season, the hostilities became evident. Aguilar had rejoined Smart-Gilas and Guiao came out with a game plan learned from the humbling Powerade loss. Unfortunately, at one point, BK's lead point guard, Wynne Arboleda, was assessed his second flagrant foul against a driving Baracael and was heckled endlessly by a Smart-Gilas fan who sat at ringside. Arboleda assaulted the fan and was initially slappeda 20,000-peso fine and, after three days, was suspended for the entire season, costing him close to 2.3 million pesos in salary. When the smoke cleared, the Whoppers won, 115-105.

In addition, there were complaints from other PBA teams about how Coach Toroman utilized his key players against "sister" team TNT. Giles played for only five minutes in that game, resulting in a 103-70 defeat at the hands of the Texters. In the end, the PBA decided to not render any bearing on all Smart-Gilas games against the PBA teams. At that time, Gilas carried a 1-2 card, losing to Burger King and TNT and winning over San Miguel Beer, 109-96. Gilas' campaign ended with a 3-6 card.

This was the first official tournament that Smart-Gilas participated in after assuming the national team functions. Despite the controversies and the sour ending, the experience hastened the maturity process, especially when dealing with adversities. Giles, who was initially regarded as a gem of a find for naturalization, was eventually replaced by Marcus Douthit.

Smart-Gilas - 2011 Commissioner's Cup (4th place)

Roster: Marcus Douthit, Chris Tiu, JV Casio, Japeth Aguilar, Mark Barroca, Mac Baracael, Jason Ballesteros, Dylan Ababou, Chris Lutz, Marcio Lassiter, Magi Sison, Aldrech Ramos.

Coach: Rajko Toroman

When Barako Energy opted to take a leave of absence in the second conference of the 2011-12 season, the PBA was more than willing to accommodate the Smart-Gilas team that was preparing for the 2011 FIBA-Asia Championship to be held in Wuhan later that year. The young turks were quick on the block in this import-laced conference, displaying their speed, chemistry and outside shooting, to finish second at the end of the elims with a 7-2 card, just behind TNT's 8-1 record. The team could've easily swept the eliminations as they lost to the Derby Ace Llamados and the Meralco Bolts in overtime. That second-place finish earned them an automatic semifinals seat where they faced the Nate Brumfield-led Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings that had beaten Rain or Shine, 2-1, in their quarterfinals series. Ginebra used its vast experience and defeated Gilas, 3-1, in their best-of-five series, earning a trip to the Finals against eventual champions TNT.

Douthit was particularly impressive in his first PBA stint, dominating the stats categories in rebounds (18.3), blocks (3.3) and FG% (54.8%). Casio, Tiu, Lassiter, and Baracael also had highlight games, but it was also evident that the lack of collective experience took its toll on the team. This eventually led the SBP to include pro players in the final roster of the national team for Wuhan. Asi Taulava, Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, and Ranidel De Ocampo became part of the team that placed fourth overall.

There was no denying that Gilas' PBA stint was a major boost to the team's performance. Individually, the core of this team went on to be selected in the first round of the 2011 and 2012 PBA Drafts - a testament to how these players were able to nurture their skills with the national team.

Now, today's Gilas cadets may be young and promising, but they need all the experience they can get to tangle with the region's, and the world's, top teams. With only two and a half years remaining before the 2023 FIBA World Cup to be held here in Manila, the SBP need not look far to fast-track the development of this young team. Under the able guidance of coaches Jong Uichico and Tab Baldwin, participating in the PBA as a guest team would be a first, but important, step in the right direction. After all, no matter how one looks at it, regardless of record and final standing of the all-amateur national teams that competed in the PBA, there is no denying the overall benefit of their participation.