Dwight Ramos would have given Gilas Pilipinas a weapon on both ends of the floor against Serbia, but his presence would not have guaranteed victory.
This, according to Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin after the Philippines absorbed a morale-boosting 83-76 defeat against Serbia in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Thursday in Belgrade.
Ramos, who emerged as a star for Gilas in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, sat out the game due to a groin strain that he sustained during the event in Clark, Pampanga. The Ateneo de Manila University recruit had been a picture of consistency for the Philippines, averaging 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Asia Cup qualifiers.
"It would have been a different game, but it doesn't guarantee a different outcome," Baldwin said when asked about Ramos.
"Certainly to have his athleticism and strength defensively and his composure and skill offensively, would have given us more weapons. But that doesn't mean that that would have necessarily changed the outcome," he added.
For Gilas Pilipinas captain Isaac Go, Ramos' absence gave the other Gilas players an opportunity to step up, and showed their "next man up" mentality. It's a mantra that the national team has had to live up to as key players -- from Matt Nieto to Rey Suerte -- suffered injuries in camp ahead of the FIBA events.
"We understand what Dwight gives us. He's a hell of a player, hell of a leader," he said. "But just because he's gone, we're not gonna be, all of a sudden, oh, okay Dwight's gone, what are we gonna do?"
"He leaves a gap and it allows players to step in that gap. It allows players to step up, and not even individually, collectively," Go added.
Without Ramos, the Philippines got a 17-point outing from Ange Kouame, while Jordan Heading stepped up to score 13 points, making four three-pointers. Justine Baltazar and Kai Sotto each had 10 points.
Every player sent in by Baldwin scored at least two points.
"We saw a lot of guys stepping up today, filling the holes, taking different roles that they weren't normally used to, but stepping up and trying their best to fill that gap," Go said.
The Philippines gave Serbia all it could handle even with Ramos sitting out. They were down by just three points heading into the final minute of the game, but simply had no answer for Boban Marjanovic down the stretch.
Gilas' offense also grew cold down the stretch, with Kouame, Baltazar, and SJ Belangel all missing shots that could have put more pressure on Serbia in the closing seconds.
"I think that the way the game would have been played from our end of the floor might have been different. Dwight has that calming influence on his teammates," Baldwin noted. "He can impose himself a little bit more easily because of his physicality in elite basketball."
"But of course, you can add any player, (and) the game would have been different as well, but that doesn't guarantee a different outcome," he added.
Ultimately, the loss to Serbia was something that the young Gilas team can build on. The players were in high spirits afterward despite the defeat, and are looking ahead with high hopes to their game against the Dominican Republic on Friday morning.
It will be another crucial game, as the winner advances to the semifinals of the qualifiers.
"I think that it's a growing experience for a lot of guys," said Go. "It shows that, okay, we're not just one guy."
"Anybody can play, anybody can step up."