GILAS Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin conceded that the Philippine basketball program is starting from scratch with its return to the cadet program.
After the country made great strides in the international stage in the past few years behind a team of professional players, the national coach admitted the return to the original Gilas program that banks on amateurs will not just hamper the development, but set it back to zero.
“Absolutely (we’re starting from scratch), and I think we’d like to define scratch as something that’s scratchier than the normal scratch that we talk about,” Baldwin said.
“These kids have literally no experience at the level that they’re competing in and at the level we aspire to compete at. It is a long, long way down the road.”
The Gilas cadets will go through their baptism of fire in the Fiba Asia Challenge Cup next month in Iran.
Baldwin rated the Philippines, officially ranked 28th in the world, as part of the third class of basketball nations behind a top level that has US, alone, and a second tier composed of the rest of the elite teams like Spain, Lithuania, and Argentina.
“There’s a gap between the US and the next tier,” Baldwin explained. “There’s a very strong ten to twelve, thirteen teams in that next tier and then there’s a pretty big gap to the third tier, and I’d say we might be on the tail end of that third tier, which I think is a tremendous credit to the work that’s been done in the national program since coach (Rajko) Toroman had it.”
The Philippines reached the World Cup in 2014 and came one win away from clinching a spot for this year’s Olympics after finishing runner-up in the 2015 Fiba Asia Championship.
The Filipino dribblers, though, came up empty handed in this year’s Olympic Qualifiers that the country hosted.
“When we change the playing structure of this team as we’re proposing to do, we’re going to fall out of that tier and there’s no question about it,” Baldwin admitted.
“So we have to professionalize this group,” he added. “We have to intensively train them over a significantly long period of time. We have to get them competition on a regular basis that they’ve never dreamed. And we have to do everything right. Our margin of error is almost nil.”
Still, that doesn’t guarantee anything, Baldwin clarified.
“If we do all those things right and we get the best players available, then we can climb back into an Asian contender and fight for that World Cup position,” the national coach said.
“And as the years go by, continue to strengthen these younger players, continue to professionalize them, continue to find more good, high-quality players to enter the program, and chase that Olympic dream in 2020. That’s what we all want.
“But just because we’re committed and we’re passionate about it doesn’t minimize the task and make it easier,” he added. “This is a phenomenally tough task and I’m excited about the challenge. But I’m daunted by the challenge, too.”