MANILA, Philippines – The odds are against Gilas Pilipinas when he plays Serbia early Thursday at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Serbia will be left without two of their superstars in reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and Atlanta Hawks sniper Bogdan Bogdanovic in the OQT, but the duo’s absence doesn’t make things easier for the young Filipino team.
“How do I see [Serbia] without Bogdan (Bogdanovic) and (Nikola) Jokic? I see them as world class. I see them as an elite, “Baldwin said during the pre-event press conference.
Jokic decided to skip the Olympic playoffs after leading the Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference semifinals, where they were 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 think Serbia right now is possibly among the top three teams in the world,” said Baldwin. “Obviously, if they had Jokic and Bogdanovic, that would probably solidify that thought.”
“But this is a country that continually produces great players and great teams, and more importantly, perhaps the best coaches in the world.”
Still, Serbia is equipped with great firepower, even less than Jokic and Bogdanovic.
Leading the Serbs are veteran guard Milos Teodosic, Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic and Miami Heat forward Nemanja Bjelica.
The squad is completed by 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 made the decisions for the Phoenix Suns during the 2018-19 season.
“Now that they’re playing for a place in the Olympics, and at home, you put all of that together and you have a formula for a great team,” Baldwin said. “That’s what we hope will end on the court in a couple of days.”
Gilas, coming off an undefeated campaign in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers in Clark, faces Serbia on Thursday at 2:15 am before facing the Dominican Republic on July 2 at 2:30 am
“We come here excited, feeling good, but understanding that this is a very, very big step at the level of our basketball team,” Baldwin said. “But we hope to compete, we hope to draw many lessons from this. Very excited to be here. “
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