NATIONAL coach Tab Baldwin is not taking Gilas Pilipinas’ preliminary opponents in the upcoming Fiba Asia Championship for granted.
The Filipino cagers, ranked 31st in the world, have been bracketed in a relatively light Group B with Palestine (unranked), Kuwait (70th), and either Hong Kong (69th) or Mongolia (unranked).
“But it’s just foolish to go there, thinking this is going to be easy,” Baldwin said. “And it’s just not my nature to do that.”
He should know.
The 56-year-old American-Kiwi mentor steered an unheralded New Zealand national team to stunning wins on the way to a fourth-place finish in the 2002 Fiba World Cup Championship.
Baldwin also led the Lebanese national side to the Fiba Asia Stankovic Cup title in 2010.
“I’ve been with one of those 'easy' teams,” Baldwin said. “And we’ve beaten good teams when I’ve coached countries that were considered easy, so I’m not going to fall into that trap.”
“We need to prepare our team to play our best basketball in every game, irrespective of who our opponent is,” he added.
As evidence, Baldwin’s Gilas cadets had to survive a scare against Thailand in the semifinals and Indonesia in the finals to to rule the recent Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.
“As we learned at the SEA Games, all of these teams are getting better,” he said. “You just can’t look ahead in this game.”
Baldwin, though, admitted they are in a favorable route toward the knockout stage, where the real test awaits. Defending champion Iran is in Group A and could meet the Filipinos as early as the second round.
“We see that the grouping that we’re in is a pathway to get into the quarterfinals and ultimately the semis and the final, and we’re going to have to play good teams somewhere in this tournament whether it’s early or late,” Baldwin said.
“It doesn’t really matter. To be a gold medalist and to get a berth to the Olympics, we got to beat good teams.”
“Each game is a building block to winning the gold medal, so we don’t really care whether they’re a lowly ranked team or highly ranked team,” he added. “We have to go in and play our best basketball.”