Gabe Norwood braces for rematch with French star Nicolas Batum in Olympic qualifier
Gabe Norwood says Nicolas Batum's late-game explosion for France in a tune-up game with Gilas ahead of the 2014 Fiba World Cup is still fresh in his mind. Jaime Campos

GABE Norwood could only keeps his fingers crossed as he gets one more shot at defending Nicolas Batum of France.

And this time, with the stakes definitely a lot higher.

The Rain or Shine big guard said he’s definitely up to the challenge if ever he’s assigned anew to take on the Charlotte Hornets wingman when Gilas Pilipinas plays France in its opening game of the Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July.

Norwood recalled having been tasked by then national team coach Chot Reyes to handle the prolific Frenchman on the defensive end when Gilas Pplayed a Tony Parker-less France team in a pocket tournament in the French resort town of Antibes in the weeks leading to the Fiba World Cup in Spain two years ago.

The 6-foot-5 Fil-Am relatively held his own against the NBA veteran for the first three quarters of the match, until all hell broke loose in the payoff period.

“He kinda took over in the fourth quarter,” said Norwood, shaking his head. “I think he had about seven points down the stretch to seal the game. Definitely that’s still fresh on my mind.”

Gilas lost the tightly-fought contest against the European champions, 75-68, as Batum finished with a team-high 16 points, including 14 in the second half, while adding 12 rebounds.

Batum and the rest of the Frechmen are expected to get a boost in the July 5-10 qualifier as the veteran Parker has committed to play for the team as it makes a determined bid for a berth in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.

But the presence of the San Antonio Spurs guard aside, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin has made it clear the 6-foot-8 Batum is bound  to give the national team a lot more problems in the wings given his height, wingspan and offensive skills.

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[See Batum, more than Parker, bound to give Gilas problems, warns Baldwin]

At best, Baldwin mentioned Norwood and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser as possible players likely to match up with Batum.

Norwood has no second thoughts about taking the challenge – again.

“If given the opportunity to represent the country and make the final roster, if that’s the case, I’m up to the challenge,” said the 31-year-old defensive whiz out of George Mason University.

“It’s an exciting times for the whole country and for basketball here in the Philippines. Hope I can do a good job.”

Norwood, whose towering dunk over Argentina’s Luis Scola was among the highlights of the 2014 Fiba World Cup, said he won’t even hesitate to do take on Batum – or any of the French players for that matter – if ‘the opportunity happens.’

“If it ever happens, it will be great,” he said. “But hopefully we get the win, that’s the biggest thing.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos