Unlike the Manama window, 6-foot-8 Justine Baltazar has been playing more of Gilas Pilipinas’ three-man in Clark.
During their 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers games against South Korea and Indonesia, Baltazar has played with combinations that have Ange Kouame and Kai Sotto; Isaac Go and Carl Tamayo; and even Geo Chiu and Sotto.
And he looked way more comfortable in Clark than in Manama.
In their game against Indonesia, the De La Salle University standout was spotting up for corner triples, shooting jumpers off the dribble, receiving hand-offs, and even bringing down the ball at times.
All in all, Baltazar ended up with 11 points, nine rebounds, a steal, and a block in Gilas’ 76-51 win over Timnas. It also goes to 5-0 in Group A.
For the 24-year-old converted wingman, it was the culmination of all his hard work over the past six months.
“Matagal ko nang pinraktis ito.
“Sabi ng coach namin na kaya kong maging wingman, so kailangan kong trabahuin para pagpasok sa court, medyo mataas ang height natin sa kalaban,” he said.
Now, he’s working on keeping up with Asia’s best guards as they are pesky and cat-quick.
“I actually think that he made his transition smoothly particularly on the offensive end. He has a great offensive skill set, but [is] potentially even a better defender at this point,” said Gilas Men head coach and program director Tab Baldwin.
“But he is still trying to figure out how to defend the quicker guys here in Asia.”
Baldwin sees no problem once they step out of Asia, though.
And they will do so in about two weeks’ time when Gilas head to Belgrade for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. There, they will take on Serbia and the Dominican Republic.
Yes, Baldwin firmly believes that Baltazar’s perimeter defense will be showcased in the OQT.
“I think when we get up against the European players that don’t have that jitterbug quickness that the Asian guards have, so it will be more comfortable for Balti defensively. I think this is a process that takes time, but I don’t see any problems for him. He is a smart player, a tough player, and he is going to bulk up some more and be physically stronger,” he said.
“That’s going to present some real problems for other teams; and this is going to help him match up in the European theatre when we get over there.”