DUBAI - A semifinal finish in what Serbian coach Rajko Toroman believes the toughest Asian tournament in a decade would be a big feat for an undermanned Smart Gilas Pilipinas side.
“I’ve never seen a tournament as strong as this in the whole of Asia in the last 10 years. I think it’s the strongest in the region,” said Toroman after getting a glimpse of the opposition in tune-up games held here the last few days.
The Filipinos, whose trip here is sponsored by Smart and supported by Nike and GMA 7, were to open their campaign in the prestigious Dubai Invitational basketball tournament versus Al Jalaa of Syria at the Ahli Club here last night.
The Syrians with three American reinforcements in Zendon Hamilton, Thompson Garnett and Demetric Shaw are among the fancied teams in the 10-day tourney allowing each team a maximum of three imports with two allowed to play at a time.
Hamilton is 6-foot-11 and Garnett 6-foot-9 while Shaw is a prolific and versatile 6’1” guard that should pose problems to Smart Gilas.
“Our goal is to make it to the semifinals. We would be happy to make it that far because this is really a tough tournament, maybe the toughest in the region in a decade,” said Toroman.
Smart Gilas, which split its two-game exhibition series with Qatar
in Doha before flying here, is also bracketed with Champville of Lebanon, Zain of Jordan and An Nasr of Saudi Arabia in Group B.
Group A is composed of Emirates Riyadi of Lebanon, Mahram of Iran, Al Darmaki of Wahda, Bank Alexandria of Egypt and Sultan Group of the host nation.
RP takes on Champville Lebanon today then Zain Jordan Sunday before capping its elimination-round campaign with a showdown with An Nasr Saudi Arabia Monday.
Smart Gilas is fielding in only one import in naturalization candidate Jamal Sampson, a 6-foot-11 NBA veteran.
Worse, the Filipinos would be without reigning UAAP finals MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Far Eastern U standout Aldrech Ramos, leaving Sampson, Japeth Aguilar and Jason Ballesteros to man the paint.
Al-Hussaini has begged off to concentrate on his studies at Ateneo while Ramos is under the weather.
In their absence, Sampson and new addition Filipino-American Marcio Lassiter have been providing tremendous energy.
“Although they’re not yet in basketball shape, they gave us added energy in defense,” said Toroman, referring to Sampson and Lassiter, a former Cal State Fullerton standout.
Sampson and Lassiter bannered the team’s cause in their series against Qatar.
Co-captains Chris Tiu and Mark Barroca along with Dylan Ababou, JV Casio, RJ Jazul, JR Cawaling, Mac Baracael, Greg Slaughter and Magi Sison are the other members of the team.
Notes: CJ Giles, RP’s former naturalization candidate, is now a naturalized Lebanese and would see action alongside fellow American émigré Jackson Vroman with Riyadi Lebanon in Group A...Former Talk N’ Text import Damien Cantrell, for his part, is suiting up with Zain of Jordan where he would play side by side with 6-foot-8 Ashante Jones and 6-foot-10 Kendall Dartez...JV Casio, who suffered contusion in a game with Alaska Milk late last year, is back practicing with the team and should see some action here.