Baldwin not alarmed with Gilas spate of injuries

MANILA, Philippines – Injuries are all part Gilas Pilipinas’ long and hard journey to the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Some weeks it’ll be an entire guard rotation sitting out, and on another week it’ll be the entire frontline. 

It’s a simple reality coach Tab Baldwin refuses to lose sleep over.

“We’re gonna have to live with that, that’s gonna happen. It’s the middle of the PBA season and guys are gonna come out of games banged up a little bit sometimes,” he told reporters Monday, March 8, at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center inside the Ateneo de Manila University.

“Funny thing is you’ll see them playing in the next game. That’s just the nature of the beast. Everybody clearly understands what the story is. They’re gonna practice if they’re healthy, they’re not gonna practice if they’re not healthy.” 

The Philippine national team is enduring a spate of injuries with backcourt stars Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo leading the way.

Castro, who did not practice but showed up at Moro walking gingerly, is finally giving in to up to 5 days of rest after playing through a nagging Achilles injury since before the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Romeo injured his calf on Sunday against Blackwater and did not make it to practice at all. 

While Paul Lee continues to sit out due to his knee injury. Though he is expected to play for Rain or Shine this week and will be easing himself back into Gilas. 

“No,” Baldwin answered simply when asked whether he is concerned that the injury bug specifically went for his playmakers. “That will swing. And then it’ll be all big men. It swings all over the place. Injuries are fickle. 

“If you said to me today will you have your top 12 come game time against France, I’d say no we’d probably have one or two that are out with injuries that we can’t get our hands on. That’s just the nature of it and we live with that.”

Only 7 players from the pool practiced Monday night together with 4 cadets and Mo Tautuaa. And true enough, big men June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, and Japeth Aguilar all watched from the sidelines as they, too, are also nursing minor injuries (knee, hamstring, and tendonitis, respectively). Marcio Lassiter also sat out, while Ryan Reyes is ill and needs rest. 

Despite the trouble injuries are causing Gilas so far, 4 months before the Qualifier set in Manila, Baldwin is confident his team can rebound.

“Nobody’s gonna guard against injuries for Gilas. I told the guys when they’re participating with Gilas we’re not gonna guard against injuries for their PBA teams. You can’t do that in sports. You cannot protect yourself,” Baldwin explained. 

“If you do that then you’re not an elite player. These are elite players. When you play at an elite level, when you practice at an elite level you’re exposed to injury and you’re at a risk. That’s the way it is.” 

Gilas did catch a break with Jeff Chan practicing for the first time this year after he finally declared himself injury-free. The Rain or Shine sniper sat out 3 weeks of practice as he recovered from a groin injury followed by an ankle sprain. 

“It feels good to be back, I feel I’ve refreshed my memory with the offense and defense coach Tab wants to run,” Chan said in Filipino.

New Tamaraw aboard

More good news was there were enough warm bodies to run half court sets in what was quite a serious and intense atmosphere at practice, as another FEU Tamaraw in Russel Escoto joined the fray alongside fellow cadets Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Ferrer and Mac Belo. 

“I was excited because I got to play against PBA players like Ranidel (De Ocampo) and Ping (Marc Pingris),” Escoto said in Filipino. “I get to test my game.” 

Escoto was part of the 2015 SEABA Championship Sinag Pilipinas team under Baldwin and also played for the RP Youth team in 2010. He was invited by Gilas team manager Butch Antonio for practice but was initially shy to go. Ravena then texted him on Monday and told him to go.

CADETS. (From left to right) Russel Escoto, Kiefer Ravena and Mac Belo help out their big brothers at Gilas Pilipinas. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

CADETS. (From left to right) Russel Escoto, Kiefer Ravena and Mac Belo help out their big brothers at Gilas Pilipinas.

Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

Fueled by the desire to learn and improve, Escoto mustered up the courage and showed up at Moro. 

“I just overcame (the intimidation),” he said. “I can learn a lot here. I can be better because these are the best players in the Philippines. You will really sharpen up here.”

Baldwin was happy to have his old Sinag crew back as they schooled the Gilas men executing the sets they’ve learned a year ago. 

“It’s interesting because the white team is the Sinag team. It’s good to see them out there and they were executing better than the blue team so this is old hat to them,” Baldwin remarked. 

“They help us out. We don’t have an ulterior motive down the track to turn around and shoo all the PBA players away and say, ‘hey here’s our team’. They’re just helping us out, they’re working for their future.” 

Meanwhile, FEU champion coach Nash Racela is happy to see the players he’s mentored move on to bigger things with Gilas.

“I’m happy for them because after college the next step would be the national team and eventually the PBA, so we’re happy they’re here. I think they’re deserving,” Racela said, noting his players will grow and learn much from Baldwin’s experience. 

“This is just a step closer to their dream.” –