Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin couldn’t be grateful enough for each and every person who made the recently-concluded 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers’ third window possible — and most importantly, successful.
The seven-nation Qualifiers was held in a bubble set-up at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga, which marked the first time that the Philippines hosted a global event during the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I really respect the work that everybody’s done,” he expressed. “FIBA and all the people here and all the people here who have put this event on, they made it as enjoyable as it can be when you’re in a quarantine situation.
“The hotel staff at the Quest Hotel has been phenomenal. The food has been wonderful — and I know I’ve eaten too much for sure,” the American-Kiwi bench tactician furthered with a chuckle. “The people that have attended to us — the drivers, you know, people that take care of us — we don’t feel like we have any needs. And that’s phenomenal.
“On a more personal level, we certainly wanna thank Boss MVP, Boss Al [Panlilio], and the SBP for the support that they’ve given us. They just take care of so much for the coaching staff. I can speak personally. We just don’t have any problems. Coach Ryan Gregorio is at my side spiritually all the time and he takes so many pressures off me. Ma’am Yvette Ruiz, who is with us here in the bubble, just takes care of all the administrative issues so we don’t have any worries. I can go down the list and just thank everybody but I’d truly miss out on somebody so from here, just a blanket thank you to all the people in the SBP.”
The tilt was actually supposed to be held last February in the former U.S military base that hosted the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, but the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) withdrew due to the travel restrictions implemented last January.
FIBA then tapped Doha to be the next venue, but the meet got postponed once more when Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health ordered all events to be cancelled due to the increase of COVID-19 cases there.
Eventually, the hosting rights made its way back to the Samahan last April. And even though the situation remained uncertain due to the prevailing health crisis, the federation reassured its commitment to stage such.
Fast forward to now and the event turned out to be successful. And those from the six visiting teams — China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, and Chinese Taipei — offered nothing but praises for the hosting.
Lauded was the stringent health and safety protocols in place to assure the integrity of the bubble, from the Quest Hotel all the way to the AUF Sports and Cultural Center — and even the transportation to and fro.
All teams were required to take a series of RT-PCR tests upon arrival at the hotel, and fortunately, no one tested positive for the virus. No further issues whatsoever were reported, thus the hitch-free window.
Strictly enforced was the hotel-venue-hotel setup while non-competing teams were allowed strictly 45 minutes of practice on the lower floor of the AUF Sports and Cultural Center.
“The protocols are very strict in the hotel, in the [transport], and in the court. And we were living only in these two places this week. We feel safe. It’s very important this is a very unique time we are living in this situation. I think everything is very good. Very efficient, very serious, and very strict. We feel safe and we try to respect all the time,” said Japan head coach Julio Lamas.
“I’m very happy. First, to see some friends from before. Secondly, I think that SBP organized this bubble perfectly,” said Indonesia shot-caller Rajko Toroman, who also sees the Philippines as a home after being the chief mentor of the pioneering Gilas batch over a decade ago. “Hotel was good, the transportation, gym — everything was on a high level.”
“The hotel here has been fantastic. They’ve been great,” said Thailand head coach Chris Daleo, who made his return at the helm after missing the previous window in Manama. “They were great! I got no issues with anything.”
Korean forward Lee Seong-hyun admitted that it was his first time living in a bubble, and so he expected to be in an environment that’s extremely strict. But he ended up enjoying the whole experience.
“This is my first time in a bubble.
“So at first, I thought it was a lot of restrictions, I felt like I’ll be locked down in the room. But the facility here was great overall. I had a great experience here in the Philippines,” he said.
China head coach Du Feng, meanwhile, expressed gratitude to everyone who ensured their safety. “I want to thank the Philippines’ basketball association for the well-arranged tournament,” he said.
“And thank you for all the working staff in the hotel, the venue here, and also all the volunteers who guaranteed us a safe environment in the bubble. Thank you for all your help.”
It isn’t just the hosting per se, though, that the teams are thankful for. For Taiwanese big man Jonah Morrison, the mere fact that they were able to play the game at a time like this has made them extremely blessed.
“I feel really lucky. I feel blessed to be here because all across the world, there are leagues being shut down and can’t play. But right now we’re playing in international level competition,” he said.
“And safety and protocols, everything’s done perfectly. Now, we’re living good, eating good, too, but then we also get to play good basketball against great competition around here.”