MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas avoided powerhouses China and Australia in the first round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 qualifiers, but head coach Tab Baldwin still anticipates some difficult games for the Philippines in Group A.
Gilas was drawn with New Zealand, India, and old rivals South Korea in Group A during Tuesday's qualifiers draw in Mies, Switzerland. While the Philippines is already qualified to the World Cup as hosts, the qualifiers will still be crucial to the team's preparations for the showpiece event.
Japan is also automatically qualified as a host, while Indonesia, the third host country, will automatically qualify if it reaches the top eight of the FIBA Asia Cup.
"We're gonna be very excited to have the opportunity to play against New Zealand. I've never been to India, that will be exciting. And then of course, our old foes, Korea. I think Korea will be waiting for us," Baldwin said of his initial reaction to the draw.
"It should be a great experience, and obviously, we have a lot of preparation to do to get ready for this," he added.
Defending FIBA Asia Cup champions Australia and powerhouse China were drawn together in Group B, along with Japan and Chinese-Taipei.
Even though Gilas won't have to play against China and Australia immediately, Baldwin warned that the national team is still in for a difficult time in the group stage.
"We need to understand who our opponents are, and how we best prepare," he stressed. "New Zealand is very different than Korea. They have faced one another, as we have faced Korea."
"I think with New Zealand, there's not so much familiarity. And they're a very tough, very physical team. And we know that Korea is very tough and physical," he added.
Gilas is well aware of what Korea is capable of, having played against them regularly over the years. Just last July, a youthful squad anchored by Dwight Ramos and Kai Sotto swept Korea in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
Baldwin is very familiar with New Zealand, of course, having coached the Tall Blacks earlier in his career.
But the coach noted that Filipino fans will be "trying to find out the book on India," a team that Gilas does not have much history with.
"They're gonna find India has a lot of talent, lot of size, just not a lot of international experience," said Baldwin. "So you know, each team does present something different. They come from different parts of the world."
The challenge will be on the Philippines' scouting department to study and prepare the team for each unique challenge, the coach added.
"We've gotta be ready, and we've gotta be ready to dance with whatever opponent, whichever rosters come from these teams, and put our best roster out there," said Baldwin.
There will be six qualifying windows, with national teams playing in a home-and-away format. The first window is set for November 22 to 30, 2021.