Gilas parting shot: ‘We’ll not let the country down’
Gilas Pilipinas flies out for Changsha City in China’s Hunan province Monday keen on repaying the prayers of a country wishing to get back to playing in the Olympics again.
“[Filipino fans] can expect that they will be represented well,” Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said Sunday after wrapping up his Fighting 12’s final practice session ahead of the Fiba Asia Championship that tips off on Wednesday.
“They will be proud of us because of the effort that we give and, God willing, we’ll get the result to go along with that,” Baldwin added. “We’ll not let anybody down on how much we want this, how much we work and how much we want the gold medal.”
It will be gold medal or nothing for the Filipinos as the tournament is staking just one continental berth for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Games in Brazil, a stage the Philippines hasn’t been onto since 1972.
Andray Blatche, the naturalized center, has gotten a lot better since the last time fans saw him in action in the recent MVP Cup.
On his shoulders rest a chunk of the country’s chances as it tries to unseat Iran as king of Asian basketball.
“He is better than he was a couple of weeks ago, and he is going to get (even) better,” Baldwin said. “We still have 10 days before we get to the gold-medal round, and that’s plenty of time for everybody to get better.”
The Philippines is in a relatively light bracket with Hong Kong, Palestine and Kuwait in Group B, and Baldwin has said that they will use their group games to gain momentum and confidence for the latter stages, where they will clash with the region’s heavyweights.
“We will play each game in order to get better and improve ourselves and beat our opponents,” he said.
The Nationals are coming off a five-day camp in Cebu where they practiced plays and bonded like never before.
The New Zealander coach said the experience “sharpened” the team: “We’re a better team.”
Baldwin said he is sticking with the 12 names the coaching staff announced as Gilas’ final lineup for the tournament.
Final player substitutions can still be made during the team managers’ meeting Tuesday, with discards Gary David, Troy Rosario and Jimmy Alapag all expected to make the trip to China.
The Philippines hasn’t beaten Iran and 7-foot-2 giant Hamed Haddadi since the 2012 Jones Cup, when the Iranians played without their heady center.