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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.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Listen to your heart: This Gilas team is stronger than you think    But 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.Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Listen to your heart: This Gilas team is stronger than you think

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.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Listen to your heart: This Gilas team is stronger than you think    We 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.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Listen to your heart: This Gilas team is stronger than you think    We 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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