By JONAS TERRADO
Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin is embracing the opportunity of facing host Serbia despite expectations of a runaway scoreline in their FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament match on Wednesday, June 30 (Thursday, July 1 Manila time).
Baldwin said in a recent episode of The Game that facing Serbia will give his young team composed of PBA draftees who are part of the Gilas pool and collegiate standouts the experience it needs of playing against one of the premier teams in the international cage scene.
He also made mention of Dominican Republic, Gilas’ other opponent in Group A of the Belgrade OQT, as someone that could be at least at par with the quality of South Korea, which the Philippines beat twice at home during the recent FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
“As good as South Korea is and I think they’re very good, I don’t think we’ve even tasted the level of competition we’re getting from Serbia,” Baldwin said. “Dominican? Maybe something similar to South Korea, different styles and it has to be determined whether our style’s complementary or whether it will suffer against their style.
“But Serbia’s certainly an entirely different level of basketball but it will be good for us. It will be very good to experience that to see what it feels like to play truly elite professional basketball players and to see how well we could compete with them when we know we’re far from our best and far from where we want to get to.
“So it’s gonna be a great challenge and we’re excited about it,” Baldwin concluded.
Gilas will have its hands full against Serbia which will still send a talented squad despite the absence of NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic.
The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, has beaten Gilas before in a pre-World Cup exhibition match in Spain back in 2014.
The top two teams in the group will advance to the crossover semifinals of the Belgrade OQT. Group B is composed of Italy, Puerto Rico and Senegal.
The winner of the Belgrade OQT gets a slot in next month’s Tokyo Olympics.