TAB Baldwin may not have gotten some of the players he had in his wish list for Gilas Pilipinas 3.0.
But the resilient and overachieving 12-man national team which finished runner up in the Fiba Asia Championship and earned a berth in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, has certainly earn the love and respect of the 57-year-old American-New Zealander coach
It was none more apparent than in the 81-70 semifinal win over Japan that enabled Gilas to reach the championship round of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Changsha, China.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Sonny Barrios recalled Baldwin opening up to him about being outcoached by Japanese counterpart Kenji Hasegawa especially after the two teams entered the fourth quarter with the game still tied at 54-all.
“During the game I was not comfortable. I felt I was being outcoached,” said Barrios quoting Baldwin.
“I felt I was letting the team down. I felt outcoached during the game.”
Good thing, Dondon Hontiveros and the rest of Gilas rose to the occasion and hit their strides from the outside to turn back the brave stand by the Japanese, who were very much in the game until the 5:04 mark when the Filipinos went on a 10-5 run to stretch a slim four-point lead to 77-68 in the final two minutes.
“We won through sheer talent and the heart of our players,” said Baldwin later.
“Kaya he was very grateful to our players. Pupurihin mo talaga itong 12 na ito,” added Barrios.
The SBP executive admitted the Gilas players have had initial reservations with the veteran coach when the team was first formed in early August.
“It took quite some time for them to warm up to him. Parang drill sergeant type of coach kasi si Tab,” said Barrios, a former PBA commissioner.
But once coach and players began to feel comfortable with each other, the camaraderie easily developed and the team soon became like a family.
“He’s like our dad in this team,” said veteran big man Asi Taulava. “We don’t care what anybody says. Not unless its coach who’s talking. When coach speaks, everybody listens. He’s the High Chief and we’re the soldiers.”