MANILA, Philippines — After getting a tough match from the Smart-Gilas Pilipinas, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant believes the national team can flourish and make a great impact in an international tournament.
“You have a talented team,” said Bryant, himself a former member of the powerhouse United States team that captured the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The NBA All-Stars expectedly defeated Gilas, 98-89, at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum but Bryant had glowing words for the national team.
“You just have to support this team, they execute well,” added Bryant, who led the NBA team with 17 points.
Smart-Gilas coach Rajko Toroman was also satisfied with the performance of the team, which played tough as compared to the previous game between the NBA team against the PBA All-Stars that featured plenty of rim-rattling dunks last Saturday.
Bryant, NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Kevin Durant and James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Javale McGee of the Washington Wizards, Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings and Derrick Williams still had their highlight reels.
Turnovers, according to Toroman, did them in.
“We pushed them to play differently. I think it was a different game, it was a competitive game,” said Toroman. They have too much individual quality but we have a system that we tried to use. Some things are working.”
“In the first half we had a lot of turnovers, but in the second half we were fighting,” he added.
Another thing that Toroman pointed out was the support the Smart-Gilas got from some 21,000 fans chanting “Defense! Defense!” late in the game when they closed the gap at 90-82 on a basket by Marcus Douthit with four minutes left.
“It’s nice to see in the end that the fans started to support us,” said Toroman. “That’s the biggest success of this game. The crowd sees that this team is very competitive. The potential is pretty big and it’s just a matter of time.”
The game against the NBA players was part of the Nationals training for the FIBA-Asia Championship in Wuhan, China this September, the qualifying event for the 2012 London Olympics.
Next for the RP team is the William Jones Cup next month in Taiwan.