TAB Baldwin on Monday said the chance to coach a great basketball program such as Ateneo University is a privilege and a great challenge.
“I’m excited. It’s a great organization, it’s a privilege to be involved with Ateneo. They have phenomenal fan base, they have great history, and they have a great tradition,” Baldwin said in his first interview since being named the new mentor of the Katipunan-based school on Monday.
“If my coaching career has been characterized by anything, it’s the opportunity to face, meet, and conquer the challenges as they arise,” added the Gilas Pilipinas mentor.
The 55-year-old American-New Zealander officially took over the job vacated by Bo Perasol, who left the school after being at the helm of the team for the last three seasons during which time, the Blue Eagles made it to the Final Four twice but never got to advance to the finals.
Baldwin, however, made it clear his priority will be Gilas.
"Flag and country first," said Baldwin when asked about possible conflicts of schedule that will arise in the dual role. "There will probably be times when there are conflicts, but the prioritization will go to the Gilas team.
"We’ve already discussed that and established it. But I believe the vast majority of the calendar year there won’t be a problem balancing both in giving the amount of time that I need to give on both teams."
In a memo earlier issued by Ateneo president Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ, the school official cited the amazing job Baldwin has done with Gilas Pilipinas 3.0, which overachieved during the FIBA Asia Men’s Championship last October as a major factor for his selection as the next Ateneo coach.
Gilas finished runner-up behind host China despite sending a team that didn’t have some of the country’s top pro players.
But Baldwin refused to say he’ll turn things around for Ateneo, which won the last of its five straight championships under former coach Norman Black in 2012.
“Far too early, you’re talking about how the Ateneo team is going to play basketball under me. We have to leave that question for much later.
“But hopefully, we’re gonna work hard, the Blue Eagles will gonna be a hardworking team, and we gonna have to learn to play defense. Hopefully, we’ll be the most hardworking team in the league. It’s a long way to go, there’s a lot of things to do before we get in there.”
Baldwin said he’s watched a couple of Ateneo games before, but never really seriously studied or thought about it.
“Honestly my focus when I came here was on the PBA and on Gilas. My knowledge of the UAAP and NCAA is how remarkable it is in terms of the support on the landscape,” he said.
Baldwin said there’s no term on how long his tenure with the Blue Eagles will be, although he admitted being surprised when he was offered the job.
“There was an element of surprise, but honestly, I’m flattered about it."