MANILA, Philippines—Both Marcio Lassiter and Greg Slaughter are thankful to Serbian mentor Rajko Toroman, who served as their coach when they first broke into the Philippine men's national basketball team.
Toroman called the shots for the so-called "Gilas Pilipinas 1.0," a team that placed fourth in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship and just missed out on a spot in an Olympic qualifying tournament. Lassiter and Slaughter were both part of the pool of players on that squad that laid the foundation for the national team as it is now known.
They will share the court with Toroman again on Monday, but this time they will be on opposite sides. Lassiter and Slaughter are playing for a full-strength Gilas Pilipinas team in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, while Toroman is now coaching Indonesia.
They play on Monday night at Mall of Asia Arena with a spot in the gold medal game at stake.
"You know, coach Rajko is my first coach. I played a lot with him, I learned a lot, and he helped me develop as a player," said Lassiter, who played for Toroman in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship.
"It's gonna be great to play against him, and at the same time, we know what's at stake."
As grateful as he is to Toroman, Lassiter stressed that once inside the court, he plans to go full throttle against his former coach's new team.
"We're definitely not gonna play with friendship or anything like that, we're gonna definitely play as hard as we can, because we wanna get to the final round," he said.
Slaughter said Indonesia will come fully prepared for their semifinal game. The 7-footer was part of the original Gilas group in 2009 but did not get to play in the 2011 FIBA tilt with Lassiter. Still, he has clear memories of how Toroman runs his teams.
"I know coach Rajko's really big on the details," he said. "I know they'll all be in shape. Just with coach Rajko at the helm, you can always expect a tough team."
"He's been there, he's brought Iran to the Olympics, and he's seen every level of basketball," he added.
Much like Lassiter, Slaughter is grateful that he got to work with a coach of Toroman's caliber, especially as a young, developing player.
"He brings a really quite a serious approach to the game and I learned so much under him. And being that young learning under him, it really helped me get to where I am today," said Slaughter.
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