IF there's something clear about Gilas Pilipinas and the 2023 Fiba World Cup right now, it's that the fans' call for the return of Tab Baldwin at the helm of the national program is already out of the window.
Well, that is if we take the message made by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio where he basically pointed the finger on the American-Kiwi mentor after he allegedly refused to coach for the February window and even recommended Chot Reyes for taking over the program.
Hearing those words uttered by the head honcho of the basketball federation a little over a year before the Philippines hosts the global hoops expo feels surreal as they finally chose to blow off the lid on the issue.
But here's the thing: Panlilio's truths may be spot on, but it's easy to understand if the fans believe that the SBP is merely passing the buck.
Tab may have chosen to quit on the Gilas program, or so they say, but their testimonies since then from their apparent plans to reach out to him after the February window to the eventual enlistment of Nenad Vucinic as a part of the staff have sent nothing but mixed signals that have kept fans wanting to see the Blue Eagles mentor back in the saddle for Gilas.
It doesn't help that through all these finger-pointing, the SBP has yet to lay down a concise plan on the leadup to the World Cup next year.
Reyes insisted plans are in place, with among the first order of business enlisting Jordan Clarkson for the August window, but with the August 1 general assembly just days away, how convinced are we that the plans Reyes has in mind will still hold fort come August?
Will all those "learning experiences" that Gilas has endured dating back from the infamous silver-medal finish in the 31st Southeast Asian Games to the ninth-place end in the 2022 Fiba Asia Cup still see the light of day when the lights are at their brightest?
It's preposterous to believe that the SBP hasn't felt the frustrations of the fans or that all these clamor has fallen on deaf ears given our recent performances in the international stage. And we choose to think that others are also feeling the heat, wanting wholesale changes for the Gilas program if not for the federation as a whole.
But again, with the World Cup a little over 12 months away, the SBP is just caught between a rock and a hard place.
Even if the federation accepted Reyes' resignation, the next question is always:
What's next, SBP?
Baldwin himself has said that the situation with the SBP was "difficult" and with Panlilio's recent statements, it is apparent their relationship is close to untenable at this point. It's even hard to imagine Ateneo players harboring the same level of enthusiasm when it comes to national team duty after their coach was basically thrown under the bus.
The SBP also has yet to come to grips with the idea of fully entrusting the program to Vucinic.
Though it's a no-brainer now, the federation's apprehensions are valid especially with how things happened the last time it gave the keys to a Baldwin associate -- when Mark Dickel allegedly brokered overseas deals and basically scuttled the federation's plans for the national team.
That's why the SBP must be in no hurry to make these changes. After all, Reyes is someone who can roll with the punches from the fans and has already accepted his fate as the fall guy the moment he assumed the job earlier this year.
And even if the federation decides to pull the trigger now and fold to the pressures from the fans, there are very few options left for both Gilas and the SBP and, worse, there is no clear roadmap for success.
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