GILAS Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin is a hard man to please, but he admitted Gilas Pilipinas exceeded his expectations inside the Clark bubble ahead of the Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.
"I was pretty realistic coming in," Baldwin said. "And my expectations weren't very high, so the fact that they've exceeded my expectations doesn't take any of the pressure off from trying to make progress in every practice and in every game."
Gilas swept all of its three games in the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers, claiming the two-game series against Korea and taking down Indonesia to top Group A, before settling for a 79-all stalemate against China in their tuneup game on Wednesday.
It's an encouraging performance to say the least, yet Baldwin reminded his wards that this is just the foundation of what they're building for the 2023 Fiba World Cup.
"We still have a long way to go. So I'm not necessarily in the mood to be throwing compliments around. I recognize that the guys have done extremely well. The results are not very flattering, but the important thing is we have a lot of rope ahead of us and we have two years but we need every minute of it," he said.
Take the friendly against China, where Gilas missed the services of Dwight Ramos and Carl Tamayo yet showed a lot of fight and resilience with a lineup led by Kai Sotto, RJ Abarrientos, Justine Baltazar, and Ange Kouame.
"It's an interesting game. I think we found the balance by the tied score," he said. "I was pleased with the way the guys responded. It's a really high-energy game. China tried to play very physical basketball and they really pushed us to the limit. They got off to a good start. And again, we just showed that fighting spirit and found ways, came back and China looked very good out there."
He added: "The team was in control, I think we led most of the game, and we dealt with something different today than what we dealt with in the window so I'm pleased with the progress.
"Again we'll break the video down and figure out what we need to work on more. We put a lot more zone tonight and our zone looked okay. A lot of positives out of the game."
Gilas going with a big lineup
The friendly also gave Baldwin an opportunity to tinker with his lineup by pairing up Kouame and Sotto up front while continuing to turn Baltazar into a winger.
The American-Kiwi mentor got a mixed bag of results, but that's what you get when you're still at the formative stage of building a cohesive roster.
Growing pains, as they say.
"We were trying to have a look at what we might experience in Europe where want to go with bigger lineups. I tried to play around with that some tonight with mixed success and failure. I think the group that I started, it didn't really gel very well, but again they needed to play together, Ange and Kai needed to play together, Balti needed to play on the wing more and we tried that.
"Balti was better at power forward again, but it's going to be a process for him, it's going to be a long road to becoming a wing player but he has all the tools to do it," Baldwin said.
"We have a lot of work to do for them all to be comfortable in that lineup. Right now, it doesn't look as good as I would like it to. So we just have to get the mentality right."
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