Tab Baldwin believes France remains heavy favorite despite absence of NBA stars

Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin believes France remains a force to be reckoned with in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila on July 5-10 even though it won’t have NBA veterans like Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and center Rudy Gobert.

Batum, Diaw and just recently, the 7-foot Gobert already announced they won’t be playing for France, ranked 5th in the world by FIBA, due to various reasons.

While their absence may seem to be good for Gilas, which will try to end the country’s 44-year absence from the Olympics this July, Baldwin explained France has enough quality players who could step up in the OQT.

“I don’t think it (absence of Batum and Co.) does anything to our chances. Our chances stay exactly the same,” said Baldwin, shortly after working as TV5’s analyst during Game 1 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals between Alaska and Rain or Shine Friday night.

The American-Kiwi national coach stressed that European coaches don’t put so much emphasis on the “star power” brought by NBA players.

Instead, these international coaches value the importance of cohesion and chemistry in competing for high-level tournaments like the Olympics.

“What you have to realize is those guys with NBA credentials are followed up by all of these European countries, by guys who are generally speaking just as good (as they are),” he said.

“They may not have the NBA length or athleticism, but in terms of effectiveness as players, their commitment to national team and their experience to international basketball, there’s no real drop off because the star quality isn’t what European coaches look for,” added Baldwin, best remembered for guiding New Zealand to a semifinal stint in the 2002 Fiba World championships in Indianapolis, USA.

San Antonio Spurs veteran playmaker Tony Parker is expected to lead France’s Olympic hopes as they are bracketed with Gilasat Group B, along with France and New Zealand.

The national squad resumes its training on May 18 with naturalized big man Andray Blatche back for a 3rd tour of duty with Gilas. – By Richard Dy

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava