Gilas Pilipinas left for Serbia on Thursday night with a deep understanding of what the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) means to the national cage program’s development.
National coach Tab Baldwin believes that more than a pathway to the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Belgrade OQT is one of the many crucibles he hopes will forge a much more refined version of his National Five.
“Serbia for sure is going to be teaching us a lot of lessons. There’s no question about that,” national coach Tab Baldwin told a few reporters during Zoom call on Wednesday night.
“I don’t think Dominican (Republic) is going to be a lot different,” he went on.
The Philippines takes on host Serbia, ranked 5th in the world rankings, early morning of July 1 (Manila time) then tackle the Dominican Republic in just less than 24 hours.
‘A clinic’Baldwin will head to the OQT armed with the experience of having his Ateneo team battle against the Greek national squad during a training camp a few years back.
“It was just like a clinic on every possession and you’re out there trying to survive for 40 minutes,” he said of the Blue Eagles’ stint in Greece, which he calls “a phenomenal experience.”
That clinic gave his Ateneo players, some of whom will be playing with Gilas Pilipinas, an idea of what European opposition will look like.
“They’re a really robust, athletic team. They have big, strong, athletic men,” Baldwin said of the Caribbeans. “It’s like looking at four Ange Kouames running around out there on the court but with 10 years experience.”
So the Filipinos will be heavy underdogs in the tournament, where the top two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage. Only one team will get an Olympic berth.
The road to Tokyo, indeed, will be a long and torturous one for the national squad.
“It’s difficult tournament play,” he said. “We have to be smart as a coaching staff. We have to measure our losses and take them where we can, conserve our energy the best we can and be as competitive as we can.”
Kouame, 7-foot-3 teenager Kai Sotto, breakout star Dwight Ramos, team captain Isaac Go and rising playmaker RJ Abarrientos will lead the Filipinos in Serbia.
The OQT is but one of the many steps Baldwin and the national cage program intend to take in preparation for the 2023 World Cup home stand. Gilas Pilipinas recently emerged from a successful campaign in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers, where the National team swept its way to a 6-0 record and a spot in the continental championship.
And Baldwin hopes to build on what the team learned in that tournament, where the country swept its two matches against Asian rival Korea.
“I love our aggression—I love the fight that our guards going in there and rebounding. So [that] is something that’s impressed me,” said Baldwin. “I think the offense is always going to take longer. [W]e know that there aren’t any areas yet where we feel proficient. We just have to do a lot.”
“So you know, this takes time and we didn’t expect to be very polished at this point, we’re not. Most of what we’re doing is coming out of really great effort, and we need to keep that there,” he added.
“A lot of work to do.”
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