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Earned, not given: Baldwin wants Gilas Pilipinas to give it all despite outright berth

Gilas coach Tab Baldwin talking to his players during a time out.

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Gilas coach Tab Baldwin talking to his players during a time out.

Tab Baldwin (left) is looking to use the World Cup qualifiers to whip up a competitive young core that includes 6-foot-4 playmaker Dwight Ramos (No. 24). —FIBA

Almost immediately, Tab Baldwin pressed the right buttons after the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers draw that put Gilas Pilipinas in the path of a familiar foe.

The Philippines is already assured of a spot in the global basketball centerpiece but the Gilas Pilipinas program director and national team head coach wants to make sure the country’s hoop squad will earn their way into the World Cup instead of milking its benefits as one of the event’s hosts.

“Earn our right,” Baldwin said on Tuesday night, adding: “And I think that would be best for the players’ mentality as well.”

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He need not look past the draw to fire up the Philippine team.

Gilas Pilipinas booked a spot in Group A, which also scooped up Asian powerhouse and fierce rival South Korea—a development Baldwin jumped on.

“First thing that came in to my mind was Korea again—knowing that it’s gonna be more than just a game. We have to play them twice again and there’s gonna be some feelings in that because of the last game,” Baldwin said of the draw held Tuesday evening.

The Philippines stunned Korea, 81-78, courtesy of a triple from SJ Belangel at the buzzer when the two teams first met in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup qualifiers in June. The Filipinos beat the Koreans again, 82-77, to sweep their continental tormentors in the tournament.

Heaped with the Philippines and South Korea are potential group topper New Zealand and rising squad India.

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The Philippines will cohost the 2023 World Cup along with Japan and Indonesia. As host, the Filipinos will see action in the event regardless of its finish in the qualifiers.

“It’s gonna be a tough group but I’m positive and encouraged by the fact that I think we can do well and then enter the second phase with some success and earn our right instead of being gifted [a ticket] to the World Cup,” Baldwin said.

Group of Death

The draw largely benefited several Asian lightweights which could catch seats to the second round of the qualifiers.

Group A may have drawn a lot of attention but Group B may very well be the “Group of Death” with the top two Asia/Oceania squads bunched together.

World No. 3 Australia will join No. 28 China, No. 35 Japan and No. 68 Taiwan in Group B. Jordan, ranked 39th in the world, Lebanon (56), Indonesia (85) and Saudi Arabia (87) comprise Group C while Iran (22), Kazakhstan (72), Syria (82) and Bahrain (102) make up Group D.

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With three teams from each group advancing to the second phase of the qualifiers, the draw assures at least four teams outside of the top 50 teams in the world will move to the next round.

The Philippines will use its tough group to firm up what could be a very young squad for the World Cup.

The cornerstones of Gilas Pilipinas include 6-foot-10 naturalized center Ange Kouame, who will be only 24 during the World Cup, and 7-foot-2 center Kai Sotto, who will be 22. Dwight Ramos, the 6-foot-4 point guard who was a revelation during the Asia Cup qualifiers, will be turning 25 during the World Cup. Also in the wings is 6-foot-10 AJ Edu, the former Batang Gilas standout who will be 23 in 2023.

With Korea in the Philippines’ group path, it wouldn’t be hard for Baldwin to motivate his young core to give it their all despite what is technically a meaningless qualifying tournament run.

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