AFTER all the trials and tribulations Gilas Pilipinas had to go through before it left for Changsa, China, who would have thought that this gritty band of veterans and young blood would be in the best position to topple China and earn the lone ticket for Asia in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Getting this far was not the work of just one man, of course. It was a collective effort by individuals who had something to prove to themselves - and to the country.
But we have to give credit to the one who put it all together and made it all possible - Tab Baldwin.
Baldwin and his staff personally handpicked these players in the face of snubs from preferred PBA stars and convinced them that they are second to none.
In so doing, he restored the faith and respect in Gilas which was once lost by the indefensible act of his predecessor.
Let us now count the ways how Coach Tab turned this group of 'replacements' into what Philippine basketball patron Manny V. Pangilinan now refers to as a "very special team."
Here are just some of them:
1. Coach Tab never panicked even after a shock loss to Palestine in Gilas' first game of the tournament.
2. Coach Tab owned up to what he admitted was a 'coaching lapse' in the Palestine loss. He never blamed anyone but himself.
3. Coach Tab gave the once-underachieving Andray Blatche a renewed sense of purpose.
4. With some convincing from his assistants, Coach Tab 'unleashed the Beast' in Calvin Abueva.
5. Coach Tab was able to manage the heavy minutes of main man Jayson Castro throughout the tournament.
6. Coach Tab was all too willing to begin work on his diamond in the rough of a super guard in Terence Romeo.
7. Despite Marc Pingris coming in late for training camp, Coach Tab welcomed back the Gilas mainstay who responded with clutch baskets in knockout games against Lebanon and Japan.
8. Whether by design or not, Coach Tab taught Gabe Norwood, Matthew Ganuelas Rosser and Ranidel De Ocampo the value of 'intangibles.'
9. Coach Tab kept his faith in Dondon Hontiveros despite his early struggles in the tournament. The veteran gunner repaid the faith by shelling Japan with six three-pointers.
By putting his complete faith in his players and attracting no attention to himself, Baldwin turned a group which many consider as a bunch of replacements into a team we all can be proud of.
Hats off to Coach Tab.