‘Tall and quick’ Gilas Pilipinas eyed for Olympic qualifiers

Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin is envisioning a quick and big line-up for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July.

The national men’s basketball team squares off with France and New Zealand in consecutive nights on July 5 and 6 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

A split will give the host country a shot at making it to the crossover semi-finals, where Canada and Turkey are heavily favoured to make it from the other group.

“It’s hard to say right now, but obviously, France and New Zealand will come in with big line-ups. We still need to be a quick team, no matter what, but I don’t think we can afford to go out there and be small,” Baldwin told FOX Sports on Saturday night.

With the PBA assembling arguably the tallest and strongest national pool since the Gilas program started, Baldwin will have reigning back-to-back MVP June Mar Fajardo and vastly-improved Greg Slaughter at his disposal to form a tall and talented frontcourt alongside naturalized big man Andray Blatche.

“He (June Mar) has to be a centrepiece because he’s the most talented player inside that we have. But I think Greg Slaughter had a great first conference. That’s a big step forward for him and just in time. He now has to translate that in the international game and against guys that are really premier interior defenders in the world, Rudy Gobert and Ian Mahinmi and Steven Adams if he comes for New Zealand,” Baldwin said.

Fajardo and Slaughter finished 1-2 in the Best Player of the Conference race with both giants averaging monster double-doubles.

The 6-foot-10 Fajardo averaged a league-leading 26.0 points on 58.9 percent shooting on top of 14.8 rebounds and 2.7 shot blocks.

The 7-foot-1 Slaughter, on the other hand, was not far behind and got 22.7 points on 56.2 percent shooting along with 14.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

“They’re gonna have to play on both ends of the floor and their offensive abilities are really gonna be challenged,” said Baldwin of the two Cebuano giants.

Baldwin employed a smaller line-up in the FIBA Asia sans the elite big men in the PBA and found relative success, but fell short in the gold medal game against a bigger Chinese team.

This time, against some of the best and tallest teams in the world, Baldwin doesn’t want to go to war short-handed.

“We’re going to put premium on size but again, at the same time, we can’t be slow. We have to try and do both,” Baldwin said.