CHANGSHA, China – National coach Tab Baldwin considers Gilas Pilipinas' campaign in the preliminaries of the Fiba Asia Men's Championship as 'window games' that should prepare the team for the tougher grind ahead.
But that doesn't mean he's taking any of the three preliminary matches lightly.
So when the national team begins its campaign on Wednesday against Fiba Asia first-timer Palestine, Baldwin doesn't foresee much problems but at the same time expects his players to come out fighting from the get-go.
“We have some games that we believe are important for us – obviously window games,” said Baldwin on the eve of the 11:45 a.m. game at the Changsha Social Work College’s Gymnasium here.
“We will take our opponents very seriously … but those games should also prepare us for the later round of the tournament where you’ll play the top teams from Asia."
Baldwin said the Palestine game, as well as those against Hong Kong on Thursday and Kuwait on Friday, should come in handy for a team that has not had much match practice in its two-month buildup for the China showpiece that stakes a lone berth for Asia in next year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In the two months since Gilas 3.0 was put together, the team only had one appearance in a full tournament at the Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei which Blatche still missed, by the way, owing to the death of an uncle.
Its other matches came in a four-team pocket tournament in Estonia and the three-day MVP Cup in Manila which for the most part Baldwin himself admitted felt like scrimmages more than tournament matches.
The three preliminary games should serve Blatche well, giving the 6-10 former NBA player more match play under his belt after reporting for training camp only a shadow of the player who averaged 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds with 1.6 steals for Gilas in the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain.
Gilas, at least, doesn't expect to encounter a lot of problems from a Palestine side that earned a spot in the Fiba Asia for the first time by finishing third in the West Asia championship behind Lebanon and Jordan.
Jerry Steele, an American, will be handle the team to be led by 6-foot-8 forward Salim Sakakini and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Nicola Fadayel.
However, Omar Krayem, one of the team's top players who was the Asian import of GlobalPort during the PBA Governors’ Cup, is doubtful in joining the team.
Here's the full schedule for Wednesday:
(Changsha Social Work College’s Gymnasium)
9:30 a.m. – Kuwait vs Hong Kong
11:45 a.m. – Philippines vs Palestine
2:30 p.m. – Iran vs Japan
4:45 p.m. – South Korea vs Jordan
7:30 p.m. – Singapore vs China
9:30 p.m. – Taiwan vs Lebanon