Some very important NBA players will be conspicuously absent from their teams’ rosters when the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila begins this July.
Among these are New Zealand’s Steven Adams and a slew of French cagers: Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, Ian Mahinmi, and Evan Fournier. Also possibly missing the joust is San Antonio’s Boris Diaw. With such a number of talented players choosing to rest, heal up, or negotiate their professional contracts in lieu of the OQT, it seems like the odds are slowly swinging in favor of our very own Gilas Pilipinas.
Or are they?
Recently, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin remarked that even without a number of NBA players, both New Zealand and France, who are grouped with Gilas in the preliminary round, remain favorites to advance, especially given their wealth of international experience and because they are still, objectively speaking, very deep teams.
France has a great many other world class talents they can tap like current NBAers Tony Parker, Alexis Ajinca, and Jeoffrey Lauvergne, as well as newly named Euroleague MVP Nando De Colo. New Zealand, meanwhile, can lean on the likes of veteran Mika Vukona and twin towers Isaac Fotu and Tai Wynyard. To underscore these teams’ international pedigree, they both figured in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, and both had strong performances in their respective continental tournaments last year.
Of course, not having all their NBA talents in tow still presents a considerable opportunity for Gilas Pilipinas to shine. With naturalized player Andray Blatche, reigning PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, and Asia’s best point guard Jayson Castro leading the way, not to mention the hometown crowd providing amazing support, the Filipinos have a golden chance to spring an upset or two. Should they do that, they will advance to the crossover knockout round where practically anything can happen.
While not having the aforementioned NBA players may diminish their respective countries’ chances of winning in the OQT, it is by no means an assurance that Gilas will make it through and qualify for #Rio2016. The battle remains tough, it will continue to be an uphill climb, and Gilas will have to pull off nothing short of a minor miracle to make a triumphant return to the Olympic stage. – By Enzo Flojo
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