Gilas Pilipinas leaves for Belgrade, Serbia Thursday, June 24 six days before its challenging task in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas special assistant to the president Ryan Gregorio said the team is scheduled to leave the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 9:30 p.m. via a Turkish Airlines flight bound for Istanbul.
The team of coach Tab Baldwin will then take a connecting flight to the Serbian capital where Gilas will attempt to put up a good impression despite the difficult task of facing the host country and Dominican Republic in Group A.
Baldwin, who coached the young national cagers to a sweep of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers by winning all three games of the Clark window, echoed the sentiments of Indonesia mentor Rajko Toroman that a Gilas miracle in Belgrade is a pipe dream.
“I think he is 100 percent right,” Baldwin said. “In Serbia, we are going to be playing a Serbian national team which is trying to make it to the Olympics and it’s at home.
“We play with a lot of expectation here in the Philippines from the public, but it’s more out of passion for success. In Serbia, there is a definite expectation that they conduct themselves like the best basketball team in the world and they play like that.
“And if they don’t, the criticism is harsh. And the reaction from the fans, from the administration, from the management of basketball in Serbia is extremely harsh as well,” added Baldwin.
Serbia heads to the OQT coming off a three-game sweep of the Acropolis International Basketball Tournament in Athens with wins over Puerto Rico (80-68), Mexico (104-67) and the host Greece (75-64).
Among the notable names who played for Serbia in the pocket tournament were NBA players Boban Marjanovic of the Dallas Mavericks and Nemanja Bjelica of the Miami Heat, Filip Petrusev and Stefan Jovic.
Gilas faces Serbia on June 30 before taking on Dominican Republic on the following day. The top two teams in Group A will advance to the semifinals of the Belgrade OQT.
Gilas spent a few more days in the Clark bubble, including a tune-up game against China at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.
The exhibition match was aimed at giving Gilas another chance of having more improvements before the OQT.