[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 21 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's awardee No. 2]
CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Take The Lead
AWARDEE: Thomas Anthony 'Tab' Baldwin
TAKING on the highest-profile coaching position in the Philippines naturally comes with great pressure and expectations, especially if you're trying to sustain the gains of a Gilas Pilipinas side a year after the country returned to the world basketball stage.
But Thomas Anthony 'Tab' Baldwin delivered in his own right in 2015, making the transition look easy after taking over from Chot Reyes late last year.
Most knew he was the right man for the job, having been a national coach for a number of teams including New Zealand, an unheralded squad he led to an impressive semifinal finish in the 2002 Fiba World Championship.
Yet the American-New Zealander, the national team’s first foreign coach since Rajko Toroman, still needed to prove himself to everyone in this basketball-crazy country especially after a tougher-than-usual "warm-up" in coaching the Gilas cadets in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games.
In what was supposed to be a smooth and easy debut, Baldwin instead found himself coaching a team that had to claw back from a double-digit deficit against Thailand in the Final Four before surviving a tough challenge from Indonesia to clinch gold.
Doubts were cast on Baldwin's ability to handle a more skilled, talented team with bigger egos after struggling to coach a young and impressionable squad in a tournament the country normally dominates. And the criticisms got louder after his first official stint with Gilas where they wound up winless in a three-game pocket tournament in Estonia.
It didn't help that Baldwin had to settle for a team that lacked some of the players on his wishlist.
But with this early trial, the 57-year-old Baldwin started to see his team develop better chemistry as Gilas barely missed the Jones Cup title after losing just two of their nine games last August.
Still, Baldwin and Gilas Pilipinas got caught in a major speed bump in the first game of their main tournament for the year as they wound up on the wrong end of an upset, losing to lowly Palestine in the opener of the Fiba Asia Championship.
It turned out to be the wakeup call the team needed as Baldwin finally brought the best out of his wards from thereon. The Baldwin-coached Gilas team overcame every obstacle in their way, including a stunner over Iran, before losing to host China in a controversy-filled finale.
Still, Baldwin stressed he failed to live up to expectations he made for himself in his first year.
“I don’t think I’ve exceeded expectations, certainly not my own expectations,” he said in a chat with Spin.ph. “I don’t put expectations in terms of results. I put it in terms of being able to create the processes that give us the results.
“And we still have work to do,” he added. “We still have attitudes to work on in terms of how the game is played. I think the work ethic of our players can be greater. There’s a culture within basketball that I think needs some work and that’s really where my focus and my energies are.”
By accepting the Ateneo coaching job, Baldwin also hopes to expand his knowledge of the Philippine game while bringing the principles he instilled in Gilas to a wider base.
“I hope with the Ateneo position, there’s another level of the game that I can bring some of those qualities to,” he said. “And at the same time learn, learn more about the Philippine basketball landscape and more about the game because there are so many experienced players and coaches here in the country that you can’t ever get complacent about on what your own knowledge is. That’s my goal for 2016.”
“I just hope my work ethic and the results that I’m able to produce with the players and with the coaches is something that makes the Filipino people happy that I’m here,” Baldwin concluded.