Young Gilas Pilipinas will have a killer schedule next month.
Right after the Clark window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers that will see the Nationals take on nemesis South Korea and Indonesia, the team will only have a few days to regroup before it flies to Belgrade, Serbia for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Waiting for them in the OQT are world no. 5 Serbia and no. 19 Dominican Republic.
“This is why underdogs win. Let me tell you why? If I said to you, ‘Can this Gilas team of all cadets stop Serbia on one possession from scoring?’ You’re gonna say, ‘Yes, of course, they can. Serbia’s not gonna score on every possession of the game.’ I’m gonna say ‘You’re right!’” he told Hoops Life, powered by SMART Sports.
“And I’ll say ‘Can they score on one possession?’ ‘Can they do enough to get a shot and make the shot?’ And you’re gonna say ‘Yes, we’re not gonna get shut out. Nobody does. If they can do it twice, why not they can’t do it twice? And if they can do it twice, why can’t they do it more than Serbia?’” he continued.
“So this is my approach as a coach — I don’t know if we will win, and we’re not going out there to win. We’re going out there to win more possessions than our opponents are and to take those possessions one possession at a time.”
The Philippines has little history with the Dominican Republic.
Despite it playing in the 1978 FIBA World Cup in Manila, the two nations did not cross paths. The only time they faced each other was in a tune-up game prior to the 2014 World Cup that saw Gilas lose to DR, 79-86, in Guadalajara, Spain.
The last time Gilas faced Serbia, on the other hand, was during the 2019 Worlds. And it ended up being a beatdown of epic proportions as the Serbians thrashed the PBA-laden squad that had ex-NBA pro Andray Blatche as its naturalized player, 67-126.
Unlike the 2019 team, Baldwin does not have the same “star power” in his roster.
Technically, this iteration of Gilas has nine “PBA” players but Isaac Go, the Nieto twins, Rey Suerte, Jordan Heading, William Navarro, Tzaddy Rangel, and Jaydee Tungcab have yet to step foot in the big league. The rest of the 20-man pool are amateur players.
“I can’t recall, in my twenty years of international basketball experience and forty years of coaching and kind of watching what’s going on in the world, an all-amateur team ever competing in elite international tournaments as we did in all three FIBA windows, the OQT, and the Asia Cup, if we continue down this path. In fact, the competition only gets higher at the World Cups and at the Olympics,” said Baldwin, who steered New Zealand to the Olympics in 2004.
So why not give a team that has built chemistry over the past year a chance?
“That is a very important question and it’s a question that everybody deserves an honest answer or two. And I think most people would have an expectation that the honest answer would be ‘Oh, let’s just put a good showing there,’” he said.
“It would not be out of the realm of reality for me to say, ‘Look, we just want to go there and put on a good showing and gain experience.’ But that goes against everything that I ever said as a basketball coach,” he explained.
“And so, my position on answering that question is the same as when I answer a question when somebody asks me ‘Is Ateneo’s gonna win another championship?’ And I said ‘Look, I’m only worrying about the next possession.'”