Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin said that he considers all three groups in the Olympic Qualifiers as “Group of Death.”
The Philippines, as one of the three countries chosen to host the 2016 Rio Olympic qualifiers, will be joining powerhouse Canada, France, Turkey, New Zealand and Senegal.
The games will be held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City from July 4 to 10.
“There is no such thing as easy group for every country, every group is a group of death,” Baldwin told The Manila Times in a phone interview, a few hours after he got the results of the draw held at the FIBA headquarters in Mies, Switzerland.
“If you look to other groups, they are also strong basketball countries and we’re not the only country which will encounter strong opposition that’s why we have to prepare very hard,” he added.
The other host countries are Serbia and Italy. Serbia is grouped with Angola, Puerto Rico, Japan, Czech Republic and Latvia, while Italy is bracketed with Greece, Mexico, Iran, Tunisia and Croatia.
“As far as I know, most countries have no final line-up yet just like us but we have an idea whose players will be playing,” added Baldwin. “We are doing now the best we can to form a strong national team and we can also scout our opponents now.”
“On the 15th of February, that’s Monday, we will resume our practice. The crucial part of our preparation will be in May and June,” he said.
The Philippines, ranked No. 28 by FIBA, will face No. 5 France on July 5 and No. 21 New Zealand on July 6 in the preliminary round.
France is expected to field in NBA veterans Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert.
“All groups are tough because some participating nations are silver and bronze medalists during their respective qualifiers last year,” said Gilas Pilipinas team manager Butch Antonio. “We are planning to compete outside the country to hone the skills of the players, but nothing is definite yet.”
Antonio also explained that a FIBA ranking is not based on the number of National Basketball Association (NBA) players in a country’s team but on the number of winnings in every FIBA sanctioned tournament.
“FIBA rankings are based on the number of winnings,” he said. “Even China could be defeated by any 18 participating nations in the Olympic qualifiers. The good news is our naturalized 6’11 player Andray Blatche is playing now in China. He’ll be ready when the qualifiers start.”
The winner from each tournament will eligible to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
The six teams will be split into two brackets with three squads each.
They will compete against each other once in the preliminaries while the top two placers will advance to the crossover semifinals.
The preliminary round will be played on July 5, 6 and 7. There will be a break on the 8th before the two semifinals games on July 9.
The championship game was set on July 10.
The Philippines last participated in the basketball competitions of the Olympics in 1972 in Munich, Germany.