#FIBAOQT: Baldwin seeing shades of same old issues for Gilas

Image from FIBA.com.
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

A week ago, Philippines coach Tab Baldwin expressed his frustration over the fact that national team practices haven't exactly had complete attendance. On February 15, Gilas Pilipinas returned to its first full training of the new year with only 13 attendees and that certainly was not impressive for Baldwin, who is know the world over for having led previously unheralded New Zealand to the Semi-Finals of the 2002 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

For someone whose standards are as high as coach Tab's, only 100 percent attendance is acceptable, especially after what he experienced last year when Gilas were preparing for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.

At that time, many of the top tier players of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) were not released to the national team, which, of course, was much to the chagrin of the rabid Filipino hoop nuts. Many local pundits fear that they may see history repeat itself this year.
Fear and frustration, however, won't accomplish anything, and coach Tab is well aware of this.

I want to do my job as well as I can for Gilas, for the country, for the fans, for my boss, and I need the compliance of the players to do that. All I can do is to give them a hard message that those who get on the court and work are the guys I select. That’s the way it is. - Baldwin

He believes that if the players are truly willing to sacrifice for the country and that their words are more than paying lip service, then the time has come for them to man up and take some risks. He has bared that, from now on, only one reason will be an acceptable excuse for absence - injury. Even if a player has a game the day before or after practice, he will still be expected to show up and train with the team.

I understand what’s at stake, but if anybody’s trying to protect themselves against injuries, it just doesn’t work that way. You've got to be a ball player if you want to play for the national team. - Baldwin

This is especially because the Philippines - despite their recent range of relative success on the international stage and in spite of their being one of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament hosts - will enter their group as tremendous underdogs. I mean, look at the opposition they have to face even before they can dream of making the next round: France and New Zealand. Les Bleus are ranked fifth in the FIBA World Ranking Men, while the Tall Blacks are 21st. Gilas aren't pansies by any stretch at #28, but they may be in for a rude awakening in July.

Coach Tab certainly cannot bank on sheer size and pure talent, but something that he hopes will be an ace up the Filipinos' collective sleeve is their chemistry. To achieve that, though, each practice must be at a high level of intensity and, again, they will need enough warm bodies.

Naturally, there are several other things to consider, like who will foot the bill in case a guy like Terrence Romeo or June Mar Fajardo gets injured or aggravates an existing injury. Still, the main issue remains plain and simple - these players have committed themselves to the cause of Gilas, and they ought to honor that commitment, at the very least, by attending the training sessions.

By resolving to be more strict in enforcing policies on attendance and implying that those who are regulars in practice have a bigger shot of making Gilas 4.0’s final roster, coach Tab is laying down the law, and, if the the most recent returns are to go on, his approach seems to be working.

Coach Tab finally flashed a smile when, this past Monday, February 22, all but a couple of the national pool players actually showed up. Fifteen PBAers attended, and most of them took part in the drills (a handful were sidelined by injuries, but they were still present).

It's a welcome development, and one that the Gilas coaches and fans will surely hope to be a sign of things to come.




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