The SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team under coach Chot Reyes is only midway through its second international tournament, but people are beginning to argue that it’s the strongest Philippine basketball team ever assembled.
“In my opinion, this SMART-Gilas team is the best Philippine team ever! Now is our chance to really improve Philippine hoops,” wrote former Ginebra superstar Vince Hizon on his Twitter account.
“There are many reasons really, the biggest four: A year-round team, [Marcus] Douthit – the Filipino, innovative coaching and a heaven-sent backer in MVP.”
PBA legend Ronnie Magsanoc echoed Hizon’s thoughts.
“It is the strongest ever because it’s the first time you’re having an all-pro team plus a naturalized player (Douthit) competing in international tournaments,” said Magsanoc, who was named one of the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players during the league’s silver anniversary in 2000.
The Philippines has had prior success with all-amateur teams reinforced by naturalized players — the Northern Consolidated Cement national team was backstopped by Dennis Still and Jeff Moore along with top amateur stars Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, and Samboy Lim, and was the last Philippine team to win a gold medal in an Asian competition in 1986.
The original incarnation of SMART-Gilas coached by Rajko Toroman included Douthit along with top amateur players, and was later reinforced by professionals. It finished fourth in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship.
The country has also done well with teams composed mainly of professional players, such as the 1998 Philippine Centennial Team that won the bronze medal in that year’s Asian Games. That was the last medal the Philippines has won in a high-level Asian competition.
Magsanoc himself was part of the all-pro national team that competed in the 1990 Asian Games. The team won the silver medal.
But this incarnation of the SMART-Gilas squad is the first to feature a naturalized player and the dominance of professionals from the PBA in the roster.