PLAYING 'small ball' almost exclusively before, Gilas Pilipinas now has the option to go big.
The emergence of June Mar Fajardo as a legitimate inside threat has a lot to do with that, giving Gilas Pilipinas a new look and a lot more options offensively, according to team consultant Tab Baldwin ahead of the team's campaign in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Unlike before when coach Chot Reyes had no choice but rely on the team’s only tangible advantage in quickness, Baldwin said Gilas now has the option of going big by teaming up the vastly improved Fajardo with naturalized center Marcus Douthit in the Asiad.
“That’s (playing Fajardo and Douthit together) essentially what we’re gonna have to give some consideration to,” said Baldwin, the former national coach of the New Zealand men’s basketball team and now one of the consultants of Reyes on the Gilas bench.
“It can be a great asset for us, though now, we can go small when we want to, and we can go big and it will be an advantage for us.”
Fajardo’s coming-out party during the Fiba World Cup in Spain definitely has a lot to do with it.
“I think one thing people have to appreciate is June Mar’s emergence in the World Cup, because in the past, he never had to play too much with Marcus. But now, we see a scenario where we have to learn to integrate those two together in the lineup,” observed Baldwin.
For a country never really known for producing big, agile men, Fajardo’s rise in the recent world championship also came as a surprise for Baldwin who had also previously served as national coach of Jordan and Lebanon.
“Who would ever thought the Philippines will go out there and have to worry about playing a big lineup?” he said.
Fajardo provided quality minutes for Gilas during the World Cup, averaging 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds despite playing just 13 minutes per game as a back-up to NBA player Andray Blatche.
But with Blatche not allowed to play by the Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee (Iagoc), Baldwin is convinced Fajardo can easily shine in the quadrennial meet even by playing alongside Douthit.
Baldwin, though, cautioned that given the short period of time Gilas has to prepare for the Asiad, the nationals will have to find ways to train Fajardo and Douthit to play together.
“We have to get good at doing that. We just can’t talk about that. We got to learn how to do it at such a short period of time,” stressed the five-time National Basketball League champion coach.
Baldwin is a veteran internationalist best remembered for steering the New Zealand “Tall Blacks” to the semifinals of the 2002 Fiba World Cup in Indianapolis - the highest ever finish by any country from the Fiba Oceania group.
The New Zealander also previously handled the national teams of Malaysia, Lebanon, and Jordan, before coming on board with Gilas as consultant beginning in last year’s buildup for the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in Manila.