DURING the course of the last PBA All-Star Weekend, Spin.ph caught the first-ever conversation between San Miguel Corp. basketball official Alfrancis Chua and Gilas Pilipinas 3.0 coach Tab Baldwin.
The meeting, casual as it may be, is seen as a major step for Gilas now that Baldwin is trying to form a new batch of national players, where he will need to borrow a number of stars from the SMC side.
The two were personally introduced by PBA chairman of the board Patrick Gregorio while the PBA board was having dinner at the Aziza Hotel’s Demeter Diner, breaking the ice.
“It was an introduction, Al (Chua) and I sat down and we talked for a lengthy conversation,” Baldwin told Spin.ph. “I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting.”
The former national coach of New Zealand, Jordan and Lebanon bared his chat with Chua was ‘very little basketball talk,’ saying it is more like ‘building bridges’ for a new Gilas era.
“This is a new era (of Gilas), with my coaching, obviously there will be bridges built and there will be barriers broken down. But you know all of that takes time and discussion and we need to have a common purpose at heart,” he said.
The rivalry between the SMC bloc and the MVP group has been a touchy issue in the PBA especially in the formation of the two previous Gilas teams that competed in the 2013 Fiba-Asia men's and the 2014 Fiba World Cup.
However, Baldwin refused to call the meeting an ‘ice breaker’ for the two rival camps.
“With me, there wasn’t any ice. I don’t think there’s need to be a breaking. It was a meeting of two basketball guys, we have some common purposes in the sports and in some regards, we’re also rivals,” he said.
“The meeting was very friendly and we discussed our roles in the game and how we can work together," he added. "I understand he is a guy who has a lot of power in the sport, a lot of clout.”
Here's a video of the Spin.ph interview with Baldwin:
Asked how the meeting with Chua - one of the most trusted basketball consultants of SMC big boss Ramon S. Ang - can influence the formation of the third batch of Gilas Pilipinas players, Baldwin was non-committal.
“I really have no idea (how this will be significant to the formation of Gilas), honestly I don’t expect any barriers in forming the team," the American-New Zealander said. "If they (hurdles) show up, which I hope they don’t, then we have to address them with the right people at that time.”
“Everybody really cares about the national team, the players and all the people who control some interest in the sport, then we’ll not gonna have barriers,” he added.
Even before Baldwin’s chat with Chua, Ang himself has assured Spin.ph of the company's full support to the national team.
“We supported Gilas, if you notice ang dami nating player na pinapahiram. Tuloy ang support, actually the support naman is coming from the PBA, not from any individual team,” said Ang.
Informed about this, Baldwin was elated.
“That’s music to my ears. It’s what I want to hear, and I’m welcome to reciprocating for their club through discussions about the players and make sure their players are not overused, they come back to their clubs in good condition or better than they left them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Baldwin he already has a list of the players he covets to be part of Gilas 3.0 and the 56-year-old veteran internationalist believes the three SMC teams will be crucial in forming the next national team.
Among the marquee players from SMC which can be eyed for the Gilas pool, are Beermen’s June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Alex Cabagnot, Ginebra's Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, LA Tenorio, Mac Baracael and Dylan Ababou and Purefoods' Marc Pingris, James Yap, Marc Barroca and Joe Devance.
With the vast selection of players in the PBA and in other collegiate leagues, Baldwin is optimistic he can form a very competitive team in their bid to rule the coming Fiba Asia championships, which is set on September 23 to October 3 in Changsha, China.
“I am optimistic, it’s not because I want to be, it’s because I have been with this team and I’ve seen them perform well in tough situations, and I believe that they have the ability to do that and now it’s about fulfilling that belief,” said Baldwin, who acted as consultant during Chot Reyes' reign as Gilas coach.
“I am looking forward to the experience. I don’t worry about the pressure, my job is to get the team to do the very best it can. If we do that, I can put my head on the pillow at night very comfortably.”
Aside from a number of players he personally talked to one-by-one in Palawan, Baldwin is also setting his sights on some other high-caliber players in the PBA.
Baldwin also gave a peek on his mindset as a coach.
“We want to win Fiba Asia, that’s the dream. But the goal is to go out and play each possession of each game to win that possession, the end result is if you pile up enough successful possessions you win games, and if you pile up enough won games, then you win the championships,” he said.
“I don’t tend to get caught up at the end result, I look more at the process of becoming successful,” Baldwin concluded.