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Listen to your heart: This Gilas team is stronger than you think

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When Tab Baldwin entered the press room of the Mall of Asia Arena on December 2014 in a short ceremony which formally named him the new head coach of the Gilas Pilipinas program, I felt some sort of positive aura.

It felt this relationship between him as head coach of the national basketball team in the Filipino basketball fans will be strong.

I don’t know.

Maybe because of his impressive international resume and reputation, which includes steering New Zealand to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIBA World Championship and almost leading Jordan to the 2012 Olympics (Jordan lost to China by 1 point in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship final; in the process, Jordan kicked out the Rajko Toroman-led Smart-Gilas I).

The goal was simple from the get-go: Baldwin wanted Gilas Pilipinas to get to Rio for the 2016 Olympic basketball tournament. The way to do that is by winning the gold medal of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, which fires off 9 days from now.

Yes, the new journey is just a night away before Gilas takes on the rest of Asia to fulfill that ultimate goal.

The Philippines has not been to the Olympics since 1972 when it got to the Munich, Germany edition.

The mindset hasn’t changed for Baldwin about 9 months later, even if the entire team had to deal with the absences of key players from the past iterations of the national team, injuries, and more issues.

Sure, it would be an even more challenging order for him to help us get to the FIBA Asia top position.

BaldwinBut Baldwin only cares about one thing: the FIBA Asia gold.

That’s his nature. He does not settle for second-best. He does not celebrate “respectable”. He is never satisfied by “puwede na”; he wants it “pulido”.

In 2002, he led New Zealand to the semi-finals after the Oceania side upset Puerto Rico. This included wins against Russia and Venezuela in the group phase. They were joined by Yugoslavia, Germany, and Argentina in the final four.

In 2011, Baldwin led Jordan in an 88-84 win over Iran. That seemingly unbeatable Iranian side was taken down in the quarter-finals of the FIBA Asia, while Jordan held the silver.

So when you have a head coach with that kind of attitude leading the squad in a campaign of this magnitude, you know we are on the right track.

He can add to that resume this year, and I believe in the synergy of the squad he formed.

It was not inspiring to see Gilas 3 in its initial weeks of preparation but the entire team took it day by day, not minding the criticism and going all-out, with hopes of defying the odds.

Baldwin took every setback as an opportunity to improve and help make the team even better and more mature on the floor. Every minute of every day the team spent together was dedicated to growth.

And so when I saw the initial plays Baldwin drew on offense during Gilas 3’s first formal practice session at the Meralco Gym, I knew it was going to be a fine ride.

Now, we’re down to 12 men. Twelve names who will carry the fight and try to make us all proud.

Still, there would be skeptics. People who are going to doubt the ability of this selection.

But trust Baldwin, he knows everything he is doing.Blatche-Cover

Andray Blatche is arguably the best player in all of FIBA Asia given his tremendous size and athleticism; he spaces the floor well and that will be key in luring out bigger competitors.

Asi Taulava and Sonny Thoss are there support him, to set those hard picks, to give more presence underneath, to push the rest of FIBA Asia’s giants away, and be the high-IQ bigs.

Ranidel de Ocampo is the best stretch forward in the Philippines today. We need his outside shooting, his toughness, his ability to read defenses, and ability to spread the defense.

We need Marc Pingris’ hustle — unparalleled hustle. We need Gabe Norwood and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser for their versatility at the wing spots.

MVP Cup DAY 3 - AbuevaWe need Calvin Abueva, who is basically an own basketball position. What he does on the floor is something so unique which not every basketball player can perform at an excellent level.

And he is there for basically everything: an energizer, a guy who dies for those 50-50 balls, and someone to anchor the offense because of his aggressiveness.

MVP Cup Day 3 - JC IntalWe need JC Intal, arguably this roster’s best two-way player. Another guy whom at the small forward is his own basketball position. He can shoot, drive, finish strong, and defend perimeter players.

Then we have Dondon Hontiveros, the team’s sharpshooter, and the backcourt pair of Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo which basically gives Gilas two “Asia’s best guards.”

It’s where the synergy takes place. Baldwin is forming a well-constructed group for FIBA Asia, and not just a mere combination of individual talents.

Putting them together and making them work into a cohesive whole makes the entire unit stronger. Everyone now has a specific role in this group.

The team is in Cebu right now — in seclusion and trying to refine and perfect the system.

We have 9 more days. Baldwin knows how important this tournament is for the team and for millions more observing.

It’s a grueling task. China, Korea, Iran, you name it. These teams will be coming with ultra-competitive lineups and the same goal of making it to the Olympics.

But again, Baldwin knows what to do, and it is now a matter of showing everyone — believers, skeptics, the opposition, the basketball world — what this group is capable of.

I’m nervous about it. But I have faith. Because if you take time to dissect what this team has weathered over the past two months and how they have rapidly developed into an even better unit, you’d probably understand too.

Listen to your heart, this Gilas team is stronger than you think.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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Basketball

Glenn Khobuntin repays Ricky Dandan’s trust with end-game heroics

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FILE Photo from PBA Images

Glenn Khobuntin can finally say that he had himself a moment in the pro ranks

The National University alumnus proved his worth for the Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to their first win after a historic 16-game skid, at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” lauded Kia head coach Ricky Dandan of the takeover by the six-foot-four forward.

“It was a blessing he didn’t play for the first two quarters because he [came in] fresh at gigil na gigil.”

Khobuntin finished with 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting — the best game he’s had so far, not because of the numbers he posted but with the way he made them. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all onto himself.

“Hindi lang din naman ako e, kami ding lahat e,” the 26-year-old shared. “Siguro kumbaga nagka-opportunity lang, napunta sa akin yung bola kasi yun yung nasa scheme ng play so ayun.

“Thankful lang ako na-hit ko yung mga na-design na plays.”

However, the third-year pro admitted that he had been frightened during the game’s final stretch, as Rain or Shine managed to impose a serious threat by coming back from a seven-point deficit, 94-96, with just less than 22 ticks left to play.

“Kinakabahan ako kasi two minutes pa rin yun e tapos Rain or Shine yung kalaban namin,” the native of Cagayan de Oro said. “Nakita ko nakakabalik sila. Thankful lang naman ako na yung game napunta sa amin, at least natapos yung losing streak namin.”

But more than the end of their months-long slump, what Khobuntin is grateful for is the trust given to him by Dandan, who fielded him as a starter in the second half after sitting out the entirety of the first 24 minutes.

“Nag-decide siya na ako yung i-start niya so thankful ako kasi nagtiwala siya sa akin.”

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ABL

Justin Brownlee, Alab lock down Knights for fifth win

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Paying a visit to Indonesia for the first time this season, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas needed time to figure the CLS Knights out before stifling the hosts in the final frame to take a 92-87 road win, Saturday evening at the GOR CLS Kertajaya in Indonesia.

This is Alab’s second straight win after losing to the Singapore Slingers last January 10.

With the win, the Philippine-based club team lifts its slate to 5-4 for solo fourth. CLS, on the other hand, dropped to 1-7 — just half a game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Formosa Dreamers.

Justin Brownlee displayed his all-around brilliance in the game, leading Alab with 36 points on 15-for-24 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

But Alab’s bench could not sustain the effort of the starters, which meant the team was clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a spark, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided for Alab, knocking down a triple that proved to be the starting point 14-2 Alab run. A jumper by Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with 2:57 left capped the rally and gave Alab an 87-73 lead.

Hontiveros scored five of the eight Alab bench points. Fortunately for Alab, Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. were on point. The former tallying a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Alab’s skipper had 14 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Coach Jimmy Alapag fielded his bench afterwards, but they let the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan slice the lead to as low as four points. Then free throws by Oping Sumalinog with eight ticks left put CLS away for good.

Williams paced CLS with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kurniawan added 19 markers. Indonesian legend Wuysang had 17 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Alab ends its road trip on Sunday, January 28, when it takes on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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