CHANGSHA, China – For someone who’s been there before, Tab Baldwin knows Lebanon counterpart Vesilin Matic is simply playing mind games.
The Gilas Pilipinas coach said it's obvious Matic is just trying to psyche up his team going to the do-or-die encounter between the Filipinos and Lebanese in Thursday’s quarterfinals of the Fiba-Asia Championship.
Matic was quick to assert that Lebanon is ‘100 percent underdog’ against Gilas in their 9:30 p.m. match for the right to earn one of four berths in the semifinals of the Olympic qualifying meet.
‘He’s just throwing that out there for you guys to print it. It’s just a bunch of rubbish,” said Baldwin on the eve of the match.
“We’re both quarterfinalists and I’ve been in the No. 4 position before and I guarantee you he thinks he’s gonna win the game.”
Baldwin is obviously referring to the 2011 Fiba Asia in Wuhan, China when he was still coach of Jordan and Matic was calling the shots for then defending champion Iran.
The two teams met in the quarterfinals where the Jordanians rocked the entire tournament by eliminating Hamed Haddadi and the Iranians out of the title race.
Baldwin deferred to the Jordanian players as the ones responsible for doing the unthinkable.
“Teams do that, coaches don’t do that. I was just part of a machine that had a good win that year over a hell of a tough Iranian team like this year,” he said. “But it didn’t get us the gold medal that year, and it won’t get us a gold medal this year even if we beat them (in the quarterfinals)."
Nonetheless, the 57-year-old American-New Zealander sees Lebanon as capable of repeating the act especially if Gilas plays complacent.
“His team is a very strong team, they came here to advance deep in this tournament. They’re placed to do that, we’re placed a little bit better to do that. But all the first and second rounds don’t matter now. It’s the quarterfinal matchup,” said the Gilas mentor.
“You can throw all the records out now, you can throw the wins and losses out now, and it’s do-or-die.”