By JONAS TERRADO
Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin acknowledged that the way his youth-laden roster performed during the past seven days in the Clark bubble was something that was beyond what he expected.
Baldwin had reasons to be satisfied after Gilas completed a sweep of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers while nearly scoring a victory over China in their tune-up match that followed the competition.
“I think the team has exceeded my expectations in most areas,” Baldwin said after Gilas settled for a 79-all standoff with the Chinese cagers at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.
Meanwhile, LeBron Lopez became the last cut from Gilas’ 12-man roster for the Belgrade OQT which starts next week, joining Javi Gomez de Liano and Jaydee Tungcab.
The 12 players who’ll play in Belgrade are Ramos, Ange Kouame, SJ Belangel, RJ Abarrientos, Isaac Go, Jordan Heading, Will Navarro, Justine Baltazar, Carl Tamayo, Mike Nieto and Geo Chiu.
Gilas left last night for Belgrade where they’ll face host Serbia on July 1 Manila time and Dominican Republic on July 2.
Little was expected from the Gilas squad that went to Pampanga having a collection of amateur cagers mostly from the collegiate ranks in lieu of the unavailability of players from the PBA.
But Gilas produced twin victories over old rival South Korea with the team making good executions while also displaying composure down the stretch.
Against China, Gilas led for most of the way and was on the verge of claiming victory when it squandered a seven-point lead in the final minute with 7-foot-5 Liu Chuanxing scoring the game-tying tip-in at the buzzer.
But Baldwin could be happy with the overall performance of the team during the exhibition match.
“I was pleased with the way the guys responded,” said Baldwin, whose team played Dwight Ramos due to a groin strain. “It’s really a high-energy game, China played very physical basketball and it really pushed us to the limit.
“They got off to a good start, and again we just showed that fighting spirit and found ways to come back and there were times that we looked very good out there. It was the team that was in control, we led most of the game and we dealt with something different than what we dealt with during the windows so I’m pleased with the progress.”
But Baldwin also pointed out that there’s plenty of work that needs to be done in order for the team to realize its full potential, especially with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia and the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia coming up.
“I was pretty realistic coming (into the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers) and my expectations aren’t really high,” Baldwin said. “So the fact that they’ve really exceeded my expectations doesn’t take any of the pressure off from trying to make progress in every practice and in every game and we still have a long way to go.
“So I’m not necessarily in a mood to be throwing compliments around, I recognize that the guys have done extremely well and the results are very flattering. But the important thing is that we have a lot of growth ahead of us and we have two years (before the FIBA World Cup) and we need every minute of it.”