MANILA, Philippines – He may not be Filipino, but Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin has pure faith in his players no matter what.
“As a coach you believe in your players,” Baldwin said, “and I do, I believe in my players.”
The American-Kiwi coach declared his belief in his 12-man Philippine national men’s basketball team after they pulled off another epic comeback against New Zealand’s Wellington Saints, 84-81, on Saturday night, September 12.
Baldwin expressed his faith as Gilas came so close to absorbing a stinging hometown loss to a team they defeated in overtime during the William Jones Cup 9 days ago. This, too, after his usual snipers were off-target and with Terrence Romeo, though the hero of the game, missed 4 crucial free throws that could have saved the team and fans the suspense.
“Ranidel (De Ocampo) couldn’t hit, Dondon (Hontiveros) couldn’t hit, Jayson (Castro) couldn’t hit and it was just one of those games,” he said before explaining the final sequence that put Romeo on the line for two free throws he finally knocked down for the final tally.
“People will say he missed 4 free throws why was he in there, because I believe in Terrence Romeo. I could be wrong. But that’s what coaching is, you make decisions all the time and I believe in my players. From day one I’ve believed in this group of players.”
Baldwin, who was named head coach of the nationals last December, further explained he does not have any excuse not to believe Gilas Pilipinas can go far because its chief patron Manny V. Pangilinan has long been providing full support to the team.
“Those 12 guys, they are what we support, they are what we believe in because MVP – whom this Cup is named after – believes in this program and he believes in those players,” Baldwin said.
“So who am I to question that? I believe in my players. And this country believes in them and they should believe in them.”
‘What’s a little blood compared to a loss?’
But believing in his players does not mean Baldwin will overlook lack of effort.
The veteran coach rued Gilas’ lackadaisical energy in the first half of the hard-earned win, where they easily gave the Saints “at least 3 possessions where we didn’t get the loose ball.”
Gilas, however, still limited its turnovers to 8 and forced Wellington to 20. Though the Saints out-rebounded the home team 41 to 39.
“We got on them at halftime about the fact that there were loose balls on the floor. A make-up team was diving for loose balls and we weren’t and that was inexcusable,” Baldwin said. “I said to the guys there would at least be 98 million Filipinos who would dive for those loose balls, why can’t the 12 of you in there do that?”
“We really got to learn that lesson. That was a one possession game right there,” he added. “Players of our experience and our caliber should understand that. What is a little bit of blood and a little bit of skin on the floor compared to a loss?
“And when that one possession is the difference between winning and losing in these big games against talented teams, I can tell you that blood means nothing.”
Gilas took the halftime scolding to heart and “the effort picked up, the rebounding got a little bit better, the defense stiffened up” come the second half. It was particularly on full display in the critical payoff period when the nationals overturned a 13-point deficit thanks to the hot hands of Romeo.
Baldwin explained they made minor adjustments to the attacking schemes in response to Wellington’s zone impeding Gilas’ running game and affecting their rebounding.
Calvin Abueva, who contributed 10 points, 6 boards and a block off the bench, converted a couple of runners from the same spot down the middle. That tightened up the Saints’ zone according to Baldwin, which allowed Romeo to get more space to shoot.
“It came down to the fact that we had to hit shots,” said Baldwin, who admitted he should’ve made adjustments right away. “Sometimes you have to find a way.”
It was another character win for the Philippine team against Wellington but, unlike other coaches, Baldwin is happy his team is able to pull out wins in tough situations – choosing not to focus on how the team allowed itself to get down by double digits.
“I’m thrilled ‘cause you’re not gonna lead coast to coast in every game. We’re not a thoroughbred race horse. It’s not our ability level,” Baldwin, who called out to Filipino fans to troop to the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, September 13 for the final Gilas game against Chinese-Taipei.
“We’re gonna have to scrap and fight at most times. There are some talented that we’re going to play.”