Tab Baldwin believes re-tooled Iran still formidable

Even without ace wingman Nikkhah Bahrami and cerebral playmaker Mehdi Kamrani, Asian powerhouse Iran remains a genuine force to be reckoned with in its own Olympic Qualifying Tournament quest in Turin, Italy next month.

That’s what Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin thinks so, convinced the Iranians are still a potent threat collectively behind what he considers “an extremely strong frontline” led by former NBA draftee Arsalan Kazemi and veteran Oshin Sahakian.

And the Nationals should have a closer look of that when they square off with their familiar Asian rivals, sans towering center Hamed Haddadi, in a pair of tuneup matches starting on Tuesday at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong City.

“I don’t think they’re rebuilding because they have an extremely strong frontline—very experienced, very talented, and very rugged. I think we will get the brunt of that,” said Baldwin, 58, at the end of another closed-door training session of Gilas Pilipinas on Monday at the Meralco gym in Ortigas, Pasig City.

“When you’ve got Kazemi and Sahakian, and the other two guys (center Asghar Kardoust and power forward Mohammad Hassanzadeh), these guys are bangers, all of them. They’re tough guys,” he added.

The presence of promising backcourt duo, Mohammad Jamshidi and Behnam Yakchali, aside from playmaker Sajjad Mashayekhi, should also help fill up the void left by the 6-foot-1 Kamrani, who’s been Iran’s top point guard in over a decade.

“They’re guard lineup is a little bit thin right now, but very talented,” noted Baldwin. “And I think what Filipinos will see is you may expect them to be less because of Samad Baharami not there, but with Jamshidi and Yakchali, these are two exceptional young players. This is going to be a good Iranian team.”

While the 7-foot-2 Haddadi remains doubtful to join Iran’s training camp, Baldwin is confident that German counterpart Dirk Bauermann is up to the task of helping the Iranians spring their own surprises in the Turin OQT, like what he did in their dominant showing in the WABA Championships in Amman, Jordan last week.

“Coach Bauermann, he’s doing what he’s supposed to do: he’s downplaying his team because he’s lost some veteran leadership in Kamrani and Samad, but he’s a wise, old coach and he’s been around for a long time, so he knows what he’s doing,” said the American-Kiwi coach.

“He’s going to be challenging these young guys to perform. He already did at WABA. He’s not going to the OQT to lose. He’s going there to give it their best shot and he’s going to have a strong team.”

Baldwin also believes their back-to-back tuneup matches with Iran, including a televised match at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, should help the Nationals fine-tune their plays ahead of their own OQT battle set from July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“This is going to be good learning for us and that’s what we’re doing it for,” he said. “The results are secondary, but the results of how we play are very important. They’re a little further in their preparation than we are because they’ve already played in one FIBA event. But they’re going to be tough for us the next couple of days.” – By Jerome Lagunzad

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