CHANGSHA, China – Scaling the 'Great Wall' that is China is a tough task, as Tab Baldwin learned the hard way in the past.
But as the famous Chinese philosopher La Tzu once said, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’
With that for motivation, Gilas Pilipinas brings tons of ‘puso’ when it battles the host in the Fiba Asia Championship finale on Saturday night for a ticket to the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
“We’ll come to fight (today), there’s no question about that. We’ll walk on that court with every belief that we can win that game,” said Baldwin less than 24 hours before the title match.
The 57-year-old American-New Zealander came close to overcoming mighty China as coach of the Jordan national team in 2011 when they lost the championship game by a hairline in the Chinese province of Tianjin, 70-69, following what Baldwin rued was a questionable endgame call by the referees.
Four years after, he’ll have another shot at beating the 15-time champions and believe he’ll have to do a better job with Gilas to accomplish that feat.
And by no means will it be easy against a bruising, thrash-talking Chinese side that has remained unbeaten in nine games going into the gold medal match.
“We have to do things better. That’s what we’ll try to do. That’s what we’ve put ourselves together, the coaches and the team,” said Baldwin the moment Gilas dispatched Japan, 81-70, in the semifinals Friday to arrange the showdown against China.
“We’ll sit down, develop a game plan, we’ll do the best we can and we’ll have adjustments in case that doesn’t work.”
And then, there’s the other ‘external factors’ which the national team also had to contend with.
For two consecutive play dates, the Filipinos were scheduled by organizers to see action in the final game of the day, giving them less time to recover and prepare for Japan in the semis and China in the winner-take-all match.
Baldwin was no longer surprised.
“China fixed that pretty well, they made sure we played the late game. And then they pushed it back half an hour (game against Japan). But if you play here you expect that. I’ve been through that before,” said Baldwin, the man responsible for steering New Zealand to a fourth place finish in the 2002 world basketball championship.
“I know there’s no such thing as a level playing field in China so we have to beat not just the Chinese basketball team, we have to beat all the other external factors that come to play when you play in China. We have every intention of doing that."
The Gilas coach admitted the ploy by the Chinese is beginning to get under his skin, saying, “I’m pissed off already just getting ready to play the game.”
But then again, the veteran international coach that he is, Baldwin knows staying focused and being in the right frame of mind going to the championship game is needed if he is finally conquer China.
“We didn’t come here to play in the finals. We came here to win,” he stressed.