Serbia still ‘world-class, elite’ sans Jokic, Bogdanovic says Gilas’ Baldwin
MANILA, Philippines — The odds are stacked against Gilas Pilipinas when it plays Serbia early Thursday in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Serbia will be without two of its superstars in reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic in the OQT but the duo’s absence doesn’t make things any easier for the young Philippine side.
“How do I see [Serbia] without Bogdan (Bogdanovic) and (Nikola) Jokic? I see them as world-class. I see them as elite,” said Baldwin during the pre-event press conference.
Jokic chose to skip the Olympic qualifiers after leading the Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference semifinals where they got swept by the Phoenix Suns. Bogdanovic, on the other hand, remains in play for the NBA title with the Hawks playing the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I would think Serbia right now, arguably is in the top three teams in the world,” said Baldwin. “Obviously, if they had Jokic and Bogdanovic, that would probably cement that thinking.”
“But, this is a country that continuously produces great players and great teams, and as importantly, maybe the best coaches in the world.”
Still, Serbia is equipped with heavy firepower even minus Jokic and Bogdanovic.
Leading the way for the Serbs are veteran guard Milos Teodosic, Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic and Miami Heat forward Nemanja Bjelica.
Rounding out the squad are Nikola Kalinic, Devan Davidovac, Dragan Milosavljevic
Ognjen Dobric, Filip Petrusev, Stefan Jovic, Danilo Andjusic, Aleksa Avramovic and Vasilije Micic.
Serbia is coached by Igor Kokoskov, who called the shots for the Phoenix Suns during the 2018-19 season.
“Now that they’re playing for a berth in the Olympics, and at home, you put all that together, and you have a formula for a great team,” said Baldwin. “That’s what we expect to run out on the court against in a couple of days.”
Gilas, which is coming off an undefeated campaign in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers in Clark, takes on Serbia on Thursday, 2:15 a.m. before facing the Dominican Republic on July 2 at 2:30 a.m.
“We come in here excited, feeling good, but understanding that this is a very, very big step up in level for our basketball team,” Baldwin said. “But we expect to compete, we expect to take a lot of lessons out of this. So, very excited to be here.”
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