The new-age Gilas Pilipinas may be full of young blood, but program director Tab Baldwin is glad to have ‘natural leaders’ within the crew.
“I think that we have some natural leaders here,” the outspoken mentor told Hoops Life presented by SMART Sports, speaking from the Nationals’ training bubble at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.
Those whom Baldwin mentioned include the Nieto twins Matt and Mike — players whom he’s very familiar with from their Ateneo days, where they won three consecutive UAAP gold medals together.
The Nietos were also part of the squad that swept Thailand in two games in the previous 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers window in Bahrain last November.
“Matt Nieto, he’s a very, very natural leader. He’s very vocal in our trainings and whenever he’s in our trainings, you can feel a different level of intensity. His brother, Mike, is also a very good leader,” he said.
And then there’s also RJ Abarrientos, whom Baldwin has been speaking so highly of. He said in an earlier interview that the FEU guard is one of those players who has an ‘advanced understanding of the game.’
“RJ has natural leadership qualities,” said Baldwin, who added the nephew of PBA great Johnny Abarrientos in the pool just this year,
Still, they aren’t just the players Baldwin has his sights on. The coach who steered New Zealand to the Olympics hopes that some particular players embrace the leadership mantle more, given their roles in the team — not just now, but in the future as well.
Baldwin mentioned the likes of Ateneo recruit Dwight Ramos, soon-to-be Filipino Angelo Kouame, Gilas draftee Isaac Go, and the NBL-bound Kai Sotto.
“There are some players who need to develop leadership qualities by virtue of their role in the team. And we suspect that Dwight Ramos will be one of those,” said the decorated tactician.
He went on, “Ange Kouame is probably gonna be a Gilas mainstay for many, many, many years. And a lot of people don’t know Ange, they don’t know how intelligent of a man he is. He speaks several languages, he converses easily on world topics and things like that. This is a man you want to take the leadership role because people will see him and listen to him.
“I think Kai, ultimately, with his worldly experience and everything that he will be bringing into the environment. There’s another guy, Isaac Go, because he is such an intelligent human being and he understands the game of basketball. He’s like having a coach around,” the American-Kiwi head coach continued.
“So, there are a lot of options that we have to gain leadership quality and leadership actions from, and we’re gonna need that. That’s very important for us.”