GILAS Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin is embracing the team’s underdog status in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament that unfurls on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Filipino dribblers face an uphill climb right away in the anticipated competition that dangles only one ticket to the Rio Olympics in August, taking on favored France and New Zealand in the first round, not to mention other higher-ranked countries if and when they get through the semifinals.
“I know if you look back to the history of sports – and I mean what I say, we are significant underdogs. But underdogs win sometimes and we take heart from that,” Baldwin said after practice on Thursday night at MOA Arena.
“We don't ask for a miracle nor expect a miracle, but we expect an opportunity and we expect to build the strength of our team to the best that can be,” he added.
Still, Baldwin conceded the 28th-ranked Gilas will have its hands full against France, ranked as the fifth-best team in the world, and 21st-ranked New Zealand.
“We recognize France as a legitimate top five team in the world and they're bringing in a strong team here,” Baldwin said of the team which arrived early Friday morning led by Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. “They have every intention of winning the OQT, so it's a big task.”
“But we're going to show up with every intention to win,” he was quick to add ahead of their clash on July 5. “We're not playing for second place in that game.”
While saying they can match better with the Kiwis, Baldwin cited his former team’s experience as their edge.
“They look like a team that is playing more at our level, but they have a lot more experience than they do at this level and they've got a very strong group of campaigners in that team,” Baldwin admitted. “They're not going to be as big as they could have been, but at the same time, they're a team that has some size and a lot of experience.”
Having a sellout pro-Filipino crowd will definitely augurs well for Gilas.
“We know that when this place is packed, it's worth some points for us and we hope to exploit that to the best of our abilities and give them something to cheer about,” Baldwin said.