FRANCE and the rest of the opposition in the Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament remain a formidable lot even in the absence of Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, and the other NBA veterans.
Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin warned Filipino fans not to expect too much in the national team’s campaign in the July 5-10 meet at the Mall of Asia Arena in light of pronouncements made by the likes of Gobert (Utah Jazz) that he’ll likely skip the qualifying tournament for the coming Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
His French teammates Batum (Charlotte Hornets) and Boris Diaw (San Antonio) are also not fully committed to play for the team in the tournament, where Gilas will be looking to end the country’s long 44-year absence in the Summer Games.
But not so fast, according to Baldwin.
“I don’t think it does anything to our chances, our chances stay exactly the same,” said Baldwin Friday night after doing the broadcast coverage of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals between Rain or Shine and Alaska as a special television panelist.
“What you have to realize, those guys with NBA credentials are followed up on all these European countries by guys that are generally speaking, just as good. They may not have the NBA athleticism or length, but in terms of their effectiveness as a player, their commitment to the national team, their experience in international basketball, there’s no real drop off,” added the 57-year-old American-New Zealander.
The Filipinos are bracketed with France and New Zealand in Group B, while Canada, Turkey, and Senegal make up Group A. Top two from each team advance to the semis, with the remaining survivors to fight it out for a berth in the Olympics.
Steven Adams, the starting center of the Oklahoma City Thunder, has also said he’ll be unavailable to play for New Zealand in the week-long tournament.
In the other bracket, Andrew Wiggins has also yet to commit his services to play for Canada.
Even then, Baldwin said the coast isn’t totally clear for Gilas Pilipinas, which reassembles on May 18 after more than a month’s rest to give way to the ongoing PBA playoffs.
“Star quality isn’t what European coaches look for. They like to have it, they like to have the talent, but they’re much more about cohesion and chemistry,” he pointed out.
“And not to say those guys don’t bring that, but there’s not a big drop off in talent between Gobert and the next guy off the line, or Parker and (Nando) De Colo or Batum and (Florent) Pietrus.”
The Spurs’ Tony Parker leads the cast of NBA players in France’s roster that also include Joffrey Lauvergne of the Denver Nuggets and recent Manila visitor Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic.
Wiggins of Minnesota Timberwolves, meanwhile, banners the eight NBA players currently in Canada’s lineup, who include Kelly Olynyk of Boston, Anthony Bennett and Cory Joseph of Toronto, Andrew Nicholson of Orlando, Dwight Powell of Dallas, Robert Sacre of the LA Lakers, and Nik Stauskas of Philadelphia.
Turkey has two NBA players in Ersan llyasova of Detroit and Furkan Aldemir of Philadelphia.
Gorgui Dieng of Minnesota is the only NBA player for Senegal.
But even in the event these NBA players don’t show up here, Baldwin still sees the qualifier as a competitive field.
“They’re loaded up and we will see that,” said the Gilas mentor, who steered the national team to a runner-up finish in the last Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in Changsha, China.
“And you will see guys you’ve never heard before perform very well.”