The OGs: Gilas 1.0

Special Olympics athlete Matthew Millett of Team USA with the 3/4 court buzzer beater!

Rebirth of a once successful program

With its eyes set on qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) launched the Gilas Basketball Program in 2009. Patterned after the Northern Consolidated Cement created in 1981, the country’s governing basketball body then headed   by its president Manny Pangilinan, broached the idea of forming a team of collegiate players who would commit to the program for three years, compete in high-level competitions and hope to earn a ticket to the Olympic Basketball Tournament.

In the early 1980s, businessman Danding Cojuangco formed a team made up of some of the finest amateur players in the country — Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, all of them already in the PBA Hall of Fame, Jerry Codiñera, Franz Pumaren, Yves Dignadice, Tonichi Yturri, Jong Uichico, the late Alfie Almario and Pido Jarencio among others. They were joined by the Jeff Moore, Chip Engelland (now the assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs) and Dennis Still.  Even players like Ricardo Brown and Willie Pearson, the first few bona fide Fil-Am players in the PBA, were products of the old NCC.

How successful was NCC’s program?

The NCC-backed national squad became the first amateur team in the PBA to win a championship and the second guest squad after Nicholas Stoodley, which won the 1980 Invitational Tournament, to win a title. The squad was also the last Philippine team to win the FIBA Asia crown, then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation in 1986 in Malaysia (the event was held late December 1985 and ended early January the following year)).

In 1985, the NCC, which carried San Miguel Beer, defeated US team composed of collegiate stars in the William Jones Cup tournament.

So when Gilas Pilipinas was created in 2009, the team wanted to follow the NCC’s blue print of success.

After two years since its inception, D-day for Gilas Pilipinas – the name given to the men’s national team – would come in the form of the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China. The tournament would determine which Asian country would represent the region in the London Olympics. For Gilas Pilipinas, the joust in Wuhan was an acid test to the effectiveness of SBP’s ambitious program.

The first batch of Gilas Pilipinas initially filled with collegiate standouts was shored up by a naturalized center and professional players from the PBA in time for the 2011 Asian Championship. Although the team placed fourth, falling short of at least earning a berth to an Olympic Qualifier, Gilas 1.0 caught the fancy of Filipino basketball fans – that a competitive men’s basketball team can actually be formed for international level tournaments. Later on, the program was tweaked as basketball officials felt they still needed to be reinforced by the PBA players.

Following the NCC blue print might be a good idea, but in the end, the national team would still rely on the PBA, where the talented players are playing.  In the old days, NCC’s program was successful since players competing in the international tournaments were amateur players. When Boris Stankovic, then head of the International Basketball Federation, decided to implement an open basketball policy, the best players in the world started competing, hence even before the United States formed the Dream Team composed of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird among others, the Philippines was the first to create an all-pro squad in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games.

Fast forward 2018, the members of that fabled 2011 team have gone separate ways, with majority of them enjoying successful careers in the PBA. FOX Sports Philippines looks back at the men who formed Gilas 1.0, and track where they are at present and what they’ve achieved in their six-year career so far.

Mark Barroca

Recruited out of FEU, Barroca came off the Gilas bench as a back-up point guard. He was selected fifth in the 2011 PBA Draft by defunct ballclub, but was traded on the same day to the B-Meg Llamados. Playing in his seventh year for the franchise now known as the Magnolia Hotshots, Barroca has won five PBA titles, including the grand slam season in 2014, and was named Finals MVP in the 2013 Philippine Cup Championship.

JVee Casio

Casio, who played college ball for the De La Salle Green Archers, played the one and two spot for Gilas Pilipinas. This Gilas combo guard was the first overall pick in the 2011 PBA Draft by the Powerade Tigers and was part of that Cinderella squad , an eighth-seeded team that went all the way to the championship round before losing to TNT. He was traded in 2013 to the Alaska Aces where he won his first PBA title – the Commisioners’ Cup Championship.

Chris Tiu

After winning a UAAP Seniors Championship with Ateneo De Manila in 2008, Tiu joined the Gilas Pilipinas Program with a bevy of collegiate stars. He was picked seventh overall by the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the 2012 PBA Draft. He earned his first PBA championship ring four years later, after Rain or Shine clinched the Commisioner’s Cup title in 2016.

Japeth Aguilar

Aguilar was supposed to play a few years earlier when he joined the PBA Draft, yet decided to turn his back when Burger King/Air21 picked him as the No.1 overall pick. He was in fact chosen to play for the Powerade Pilipinas squad in 2009 under head coach Yeng Guiao, which placed eighth in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship. He would again play for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. In his return to the PBA, Aguilar’s rights were acquired by TNT, but would be traded to GlobalPort soon after. It was with Barangay Ginebra where the 6-foot-9 athletic forward would blossom when he was acquired by the Gin Kings and would win two titles with the league’s most popular squad. His game has matured since Tim Cone had taken over the reins for Ginebra as Aguilar would be included in the Mythical and All-Defensive Teams.

Mac Baracael

Baracael, a former FEU Tamaraw, used to play the power forward spot for the Rajko Toroman-coached squad, but when he entered the PBA, he had to be contended playing as reliever of Calvin Abueva at Alaska. He joined the PBA Draft in 2011, and was selected 6th overall by the Alaska Aces. Baracael is currently playing for the Meralco Bolts, his sixth PBA team.

Marcus Douthit

Fondly called “Kuya Marcus”, Douthit underwent the naturalization process in 2011 to be able to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas as a foreign reinforcement. Besting other foreign prospects for the role, Douthit would be Gilas’ naturalized center until the 2015 SEA Games. Douthit had already seen the writing on the wall the moment he was replaced by ex-NBA player Andray Blatche to reinforce Gilas in the 2014 World Cup. But he also had stints in the PBA where he played as import for the Air21 Express in the 2012 and the Blackwater Elite in 2015. Douthit is currently playing in the Thailand Basketball Super League as an import for the Vietnamese ball club Hanoi Buffaloes.

Marcio Lassiter

Lassiter first showcased his three-point shooting accuracy as a shooting guard for Gilas Pilipinas, who recruited him out from US NCAA Division I school Cal State-Fullerton. He joined Casio as a rookie for the Powerade Tigers, who drafted him fourth overall in the 2011 PBA Draft. In 2012, he was traded to the San Miguel Beermen – a team he helped win five PBA crowns, including three straight Philippine Cup titles.

Chris Lutz

Like Lassiter, Gilas Pilipinas witnessed the shooting prowess of Lutz, a discovery out of Marshall University. He was selected third overall in the 2011 PBA Draft by the Petron Blaze Boosters, a team now known as the San Miguel Beermen. Lutz won three championships  with San Miguel. He would play for the San Miguel franchise until the 2016 PBA season, but would be sidelined by different sorts of injuries. Meralco took a gamble in getting the Fil-foreign hotshot, but he has yet to recover from the injuries he sustained.

Coach Rajko Toroman

Toroman was hired by the SBP as Gilas Head Coach in 2009, due to his experience and familiarity with the international game. The Serbian mentor handled Gilas Pilipinas until 2012, where he was replaced by Chot Reyes. After his Gilas stint, Toroman coached in the PBA for the Petron Blaze Boosters and Barako Bull Energy until 2013. Toroman continued his foray in the international basketball scene when he was hired in 2014 as the head coach of the Jordanian National Team – a post he would relinquish in 2016. Currently, Toroman coaches the Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions in the Chinese Basketball Association.