When he first handled Justine Baltazar during the Manama window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, Gilas program director Tab Baldwin wanted to convert the 6-foot-8 big man into a wing player.
“Honestly, the plan is to develop him more as a perimeter player,” he previously told Coaches Unfiltered, powered by SMART.
“I think he can become a very good wing, and he will be a real problem for the teams posting up wings and defending on the wing.”
Three months later, the transformation might be complete.
Gilas skipper Kiefer Ravena marveled at the improvements of the Pampanga native – even warning the UAAP of what the La Salle big man will bring when league play resumes.
“Sa UAAP, kailangan nila abangan si Baltazar! Grabe si Balti, ang laki ng inimprove niya. As in wing na talaga siya. Ang laki ng ginaling ni Balti. Nakakatuwa,” the host of The Prospects Pod also powered by SMART said about Baltazar, who turns 24 on February 19.
“Tawag nga namin sa kanya dito si the ‘Big Nasty’.”
Ravena added that Baltazar can now slash and shoot from beyond the arc.
Ravena did not praise only Baltazar, though, but all the cadets who went away from their families from January 10 to February 13 in order to prepare for the final window of the Qualifiers.
Though the window was postponed, leading to Gilas breaking camp, the 27-year-old Ravena, who is a four-year PBA pro, admitted that he, CJ Perez, Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, Raul Soyud, and Justin Chua learned more from the cadets than the other way around.
“They’ve grown so much in the time we’ve spent here. Sina Calvin [Oftana], Dave [Ildefonso, those guys, the Gomez de Liaño brothers [Juan and Javi], grabe ‘yung growth ng mga bata kaya nakakatuwa talaga. The most positive thing about it is nadala rin kaming mga PBA players sa growth na ‘yun,” expressed Ravena.
“Akala namin sila ‘yung mga may matututunan sa amin, pero it was the other way around. We’ve learned a lot from them, and we are thankful for that.”