Baldwin assesses Gilas: ‘We’re not ready yet’

MANILA, Philippines – A little over a week before the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship and after the conclusion of the 2015 MVP Cup, Gilas Pilipinas is not yet ready for the continental tilt according to head coach Tab Baldwin.

“I’m not comfortable but I don’t want to be comfortable. This team is a very, very new and very young team in terms of time together and training opportunities,” explained Baldwin after the Philippine national men’s basketball team swept the MVP Cup on Sunday, September 13. They have 8 more days before the FIBA Asia competition tips off on September 23. 

“And you can’t expect to have all the cohesion in the world and expect to have fluid basketball when that is the case. 

“We’re not ready yet but we still have a week of seclusion away from the media and away from the public, and we can get better in that environment.” 

Baldwin wants to avoid complacency despite the 6-game winning streak his team has amassed dating back to the William Jones Cup where Gilas won the silver. He knows early wins and a false sense of security are the perfect ingredients for a FIBA Asia horror story. (READ: Baldwin declares faith in Gilas: 'I believe in my players')

“I think the biggest thing that concerns me right now going into Asia is that there’s going to be some very professional teams there,” said the veteran international coach, who was not too impressed with Gilas’ win over Chinese Taipei in the MVP Cup as the Taiwanese did not field in its best players. 

“I feel like we are not yet as professional as we need to be. We still make silly basketball mistakes. Our defensive transition was terrible tonight, there’s no excuse for that. We turned the ball over recklessly at times and a professional team does not do that.”

In the same vein, he does not want these tournament successes to cloud over the team’s judgment of the reality in front of them when they face Palestine, Kuwait and Hong Kong in Group B for the first round. 

Hong Kong and Kuwait rank 69th and 70th, respectively, in the FIBA world ranking for men’s basketball, while Palestine is not included in the 85-country rankings. The Philippines is ranked 31st. 

“The reality is, without trying to sound in any way arrogant, we understand that the first pool that we have is not the top-tier teams in Asia. The horror story would be if we were complacent and relaxed and just treated those as scrimmages and lost one of them,” he explained. 

“We should control those games reasonably well and those can be more games where we can continue to evolve our system, and refine and perfect what we’re trying to do. But we still need to seek to be dominant in those games for our own mentality and our own psychology.”

Final preparations in Cebu

Gilas will be in Mactan, Cebu for about a week of isolation for their final preparations for the FIBA Asia tilt in Changsha, Hunan, China. 

During the training camp, Baldwin said the nationals will work on refining what they already know and introducing new things, as well as identifying and addressing weak points.

#Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin talks about what the team still needs to work on a little over a week before FIBA Asia — Jane Bracher (@janebracher) September 14, 2015

They will also be establishing familiarity and confidence in various line-up combinations that Baldwin will deploy depending on certain situations. That means getting used to unusual combinations of players and knowing exactly what to expect when a particular 5 is called on the floor. 

“It might be a surprise to the opposition but they (Gilas) will know their roles,” Baldwin said, “they will know whether they’re out there for rebounding, energy, defense, pressure or shooting or whatever it happens to be.” 

There is also still a need to address finding the balance between “allowing these players with some very expressive offensive ability to play and harnessing that into a structured system.” And that kind of ability to take control as well as learning proper timing for every action largely depends on the players.

“It’s not that our coaching staff does not know what to do, it’s that they (players) exercise self-discipline at the right moments and they allow that freedom of expression of play at the right moments,” the American-Kiwi coach said. 

Apart from techniques and strategy, Gilas will also build up strength and conditioning. Practices will not be a full-on grind. Instead, the coaching staff is out to ensure the team will be in peak condition physically in time for the tournament.

“It means tapering towards the end of the week and making sure that our practices go from high-energy to high-intelligence,” Baldwin explained. “It will be sort of how it flows, I hope.” 

Also critical is the conditioning of naturalized big man Andray Blatche, who has long been out of shape since arriving early in August following a long lay-off after his Chinese Basketball Association stint as he cared for his ailing mother

The unfortunate death of his uncle during the Jones Cup also impeded his conditioning work. He is currently starving himself with a soup and salad diet to expedite the process. Baldwin expects to see results towards the end of the week. 

Similar to the FIBA Asia tilt of 2013, a lot is at stake for Philippine team this year as the China tournament also serves as a regional Olympic qualifier for next year’s Games in Rio de Janeiro. The team that wins the gold at FIBA Asia will automatically qualify. –