As the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national program continues to push past its initial three-year run, there are many noticeable changes to the team.
Former coach Rajko Toroman, of course, is gone. Players like Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz are not part of the team. Marcus Douthit is expected to stick around, but the process of naturalizing athletic NBA center JaVale McGee is underway. But despite the different look these days, at the program’s core still beats the same principles from when it first began.
“The concept from before that we wanted to bring mostly a group of non-PBA players augmented by PBA players is now replaced by the reverse,” said SMART-Gilas coach Chot Reyes. “We’re bringing a group of PBA players augmented by non-PBA players. But the overall philosophy of training young players is still there.”
SMART-Gilas began with a group of then-rising young players, led by former collegiate rivals Chris Tiu and JVee Casio, who held off on joining the PBA draft until their three-year commitments to the program ran its course. Instead, they trained with the team year-round and gained valuable experience by competing in many international events.
The result was a strong 2011 PBA rookie class that was ready to contribute right away, exemplified by Powerade’s Lassiter and Casio, who helped lead their team reach the Philippine Cup finals in their very first conference. The rookie hype also led to the PBA All-Star Game making a return to the Rookies-Sophomore-Juniors versus Veterans format.
“The commitment to build the younger group, those not yet in the PBA, and get them up to speed is still there. I think it will remain a very good feeder system for the PBA. But the difference before was that there was no connection between the youth and the elite team, so now we are addressing that,” said Reyes.
On Monday night, the PBA players welcomed the SMART-Gilas select team — a group composed mostly of members of the Norman Black-helmed Sinag Pilipinas team that competed in the Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia last year — to their fold.
Among those in practice were Filipino-Americans Cliff Hodge and Chris Ellis, Ateneo’s Emman Monfort, and San Beda’s Garvo Lanete and Dave Marcelo.
“Basically, it’s just one system. Kung ano ginagawa ng Gilas, yun din ang gagawin ng select team. And that’s why this was a good practice,” explained Reyes. “We got the select ream to come the first hour-and-a-half and we taught them the things na alam na ng Gilas. And towards the end, pumasok na rin yung select team sa progression ng Gilas for today. Nag-abot na sila.”
The select team is also expected to make up a good part of the team that will play in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association tournament in July that serves as the qualifier for the FIBA Asia Cup, formerly known as the Stankovic Cup.
“The reason we chose those guys is basically because they’ve impressed us in all the games that we’ve watched previously,” Reyes said of the select team. “But obviously, some of the same guys stand out. Cliff Hodge is very impressive.”
“We will find out as we go along, the other things like how hard they work, the character, the attitude.”
Reyes, though, preached patience when it comes to the development of SMART-Gilas.
“We are progressing little by little, as you can imagine, because everybody is still playing (in the PBA),” he said.
“But we’ve put in some fundamentals of the offense, progressed to some of the more advanced things and most importantly, just the camaraderie and the bond is getting built and that’s very important.”