As of this writing, current NBA players Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Alexis Ajinca, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Boris Diaw remain in the French national pool for the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament here in Manila. Other players like 2016 Euroleague MVP Nando De Colo and top-tier talents like Rodrigue Beaubois, Antione Diot, Mickael Gelabale, and Kim Tillie are also still around, and all of those guys will likely make it to our corner of the world to fight for a spot in #Rio2016.
That means that France, despite not having a handful of other NBAers like Rudy Gobert, Ian Mahinmi, and Evan Fournier, should still be the heavy favorites to secure the Manila OQT’s lone Olympic ticket. Coach Vincent Collet’s squad, of course, was among the strongest in Eurobasket 2015 and is ranked 5th overall in the world. Among all the Manila OQT teams, the closest ones (in terms of ranking) to the French are Turkey (#8) and New Zealand (#21).
Both of those squads will be somewhat depleted as well. Ersan Ilyasova, Enes Kanter, and Emir Preldzic aren’t on Turkey’s OQT pool, while OKC Thunder big man Steven Adams of the Tall Blacks has opted to rest this summer. Would-be powerhouse Canada has also lost a lot of its luster with the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Olynyk, Nick Staukas, and a few other NBA names pulling out. Senegal, meanwhile, won’t be with its lone NBA talent, Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This has presented Gilas with a most opportune shot at making #Rio2016, but, without a doubt, the biggest stumbling block remains Collet’s posse. Even if the Filipinos manage to buck the odds and make it all the way to the OQT Finals, it stands to reason that France will be the team waiting on the other end of the floor.
How do we match up against Les Bleus? Well, I honestly think our best five (presumably Andray Blatche, Jayson Castro, Ray Parks, a 100% Jeff Chan, and either June Mar Fajardo or Japeth Aguilar) can somehow keep in step with France’s best quintet (presumably Parker, Batum, Lauvergne, Diaw, and De Colo), but it’s in the reserves where France’s depth will begin to really hurt us. We have some very good second unit guys like Gabe Norwood, Calvin Abueva, Troy Rosario, Ranidel De Ocampo, and Terrence Romeo, but when ranged against France’s host of Euro veterans, I wouldn’t be shocked if our supporting cast is a tad overwhelmed.
Naturally, we are expected to play at a higher-than-normal level here at home. I think the climate, the culture, and the crowd here in Manila will all play into how the other teams fare, including the French. The Gilas boys will surely get a much needed boost of energy, but, objectively speaking, that may not be enough to carry us through.
Yes, in spite of how the 2014 iteration of Gilas lost by just 7 to France in a pre-World Cup tune-up match, I still think coach Collet has a squad that can prevail even if they rely mostly on their depth. Remember that Tony Parker didn’t play in that August 15, 2014 contest, and that he will definitely be a very tough assignment, even for Castro, once they set foot in Manila. Remember that when France flipped the switch late in the final frame of that joust, they outscored Gilas, 20-8, leaning on the outside shooting of Diot and the versatility of Batum and Diaw.
It will take nothing short of Gilas’s very best for them to hang with the French, whom I’m tagging as 7-10 point favorites to win. Still, if we catch them on a somewhat off day and we catch fire from long distance, who knows, right? In a tournament this short with the stakes so high, anything can happen. – By Enzo Flojo
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