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Baldwin making sure Gilas will not underestimate France
MANILA (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - The average fan in the Philippines and New Zealand might think his/her team's chances of claiming a berth to the Rio de Janeiro Games improved the past couple of weeks with Rudy Gobert and Nicolas Batum ruled out of France's line-up for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Manila.
The three sides will square off against each other in Group B of the OQT, which tips off on 5 July. However, the coach of the Philippines, Tab Baldwin, believes no such thing. He expects the French to be as tough as always.
"I don't think it does anything to our chances," he said to the local media. "Our chances stay exactly the same.
"What you have to realize is that those guys with NBA credentials are followed up by all of these (players in) European countries, by guys who are generally speaking just as good."
They may not have the NBA length or athleticism, but in terms of effectiveness as players, their commitment to the national team and their experience in international basketball, there's no real drop-off because the star quality isn’t what European coaches look for. - Baldwin
Anyone that has followed France the past several years will know that center Gobert and swingman Batum are special talents. The latter was a member of the French squad that captured the title at EuroBasket 2013 and both he and Gobert played on the France sides that finished third at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and EuroBasket 2015.
Each has the ability to make important, game-winning plays on both ends of the court. Batum defends with tenacity, hits big jump shots and soars in for dunks while Gobert grabs rebounds, swats shots and goes up for alley-oop jams.
But France will have players like CSKA Moscow's Nando de Colo, an All-Star Five selection from last year's EuroBasket who just scooped the honor as Euroleague Final Four MVP. Les Bleus can also count on veterans like Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus, as well as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. There is also the likely return of pivot Alexis Ajinca.
The Philippines showed at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and last year's FIBA Asia Championship that they have plenty of talent, too. France and New Zealand, and potentially Turkey, Senegal and Canada will know that Baldwin's side will be tough, especially with home-court advantage.
Only the side that wins the Manila OQT will clinch a spot for Rio 2016. The Philippines will be hoping to reach the Olympics for the first time since 1972 in Munich, when they finished 13th.
Baldwin, meanwhile, will not be able to call on the services of Greg Slaughter or Matt Ganuelas-Rosser for the OQT with ankle injuries having knocked both out of contention for spots on the roster. The coach spoke about the players on Wednesday.
"Every player under my responsibility who has an injury is a concern," Baldwin said. "I'm concerned for them as people, for their careers, for their opportunities. I'm concerned that they can't realize their ambitions to be part of Gilas this year. But they move on and I move on."