‘Guys are committed to the cause’
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin said yesterday it’s easy to be cynical in the wake of setbacks that are slowing the progress of the national basketball team but he’s just counting his blessings in making the most out of the situation.

Since officially opening camp for Gilas two weeks ago, Baldwin has traversed an obstacle course. JuneMar Fajardo withdrew from the team because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot and may undergo surgery. Japeth Aguilar dislocated a finger. L. A. Tenorio begged off to focus on getting back on track in his career. Kelly Williams went down with an MCL tear on the first day of Gilas practice. Marc Pingris, Marcio Lassiter and Paul Lee aren’t available. A planned trip to Turkey was scrapped because of visa issues. Ranidel de Ocampo, recovering from a hamstring injury, hasn’t practiced while Terrence Romeo was hospitalized with a viral infection and missed three days of camp. Andray Blatche also sat out a few days because of a prostate problem. When it rains, it pours. But Baldwin said he’s not fazed.

“I think it would be an injustice to the guys who are giving their 100 percent at practice to be cynical,” said Baldwin. “The guys are out there doing their best. Would we have a better team if the guys in our wish list were around? We’ll never know. All I know is the guys we’ve got are committed to the cause. I’m really impressed by their sense of selflessness. I’m ready to go to war with these guys. This is a special group of players. They’ve all got a great attitude, they’re coachable. I only hope and pray that we get healthier and that we’re able to make the most of the time we’ve got to get better as a team. I know that with time, we can go far with this team.”

Baldwin said Gilas is working hard to generate chemistry from a mix of experience and youth. “We can put five guys on the floor, averaging 36 years old, and they’ll be competitive which is amazing,” he said. “That’s Jimmy Alapag (37), Dondon Hontiveros (38), Asi Taulava (42), Ranidel (33) and Sonny Thoss (33). The new guys are doing well, too. Calvin (Abueva), Terrence and Troy (Rosario) are contributing.  I couldn’t be happier with all of them.”

Baldwin singled out Abueva. “He’s relentless,” said Baldwin.” He’s got a nose for the ball and he goes after every rebound. He’s an incredible offensive rebounder. I’ve told the guys if everyone goes after offensive rebounds like Calvin, we’ll win a lot of games. Offensive rebounding is a big part of the game. Calvin reminds me of Moses Malone. Although Moses was a center, Calvin rebounds like him, he’s all over the boards. He’s not like Dennis Rodman who was great at positioning. You’ll never know where Calvin’s going in trying to get the rebound because he’s everywhere being relentless.”

As for Blatche, Baldwin said he’s not surprised how the former NBA player is rising to the challenge. “Andray is very competitive and wants to win,” he said. “Sometimes, we have to hold him back but he wants to work as hard as everybody else. He hasn’t played a game since February so he came in overweight. He’s about 20 pounds over but I expect the pounds to go off. We want Andray healthy, that’s the most important thing. He’s got a really positive attitude.”

What Baldwin said Gilas will miss badly is the training camp in Turkey. “We would’ve spent eight to nine days in Turkey,” he said. “I was counting on it to get the guys together, to do team building and bonding and to learn from one of the greatest coaches ever, Zeljko Obradovic of the Fenerbahce Ulker club. It would’ve been awesome to learn from coach Obradovic whom I think is the best coach outside of the NBA and may be even better than some NBA coaches. One of coach Obradovic’s assistants Erdem Can was my assistant when I coached the Banvit club in the Turkish league for a year and a half. So we would’ve had a great camp with support from coach Obradovic and coach Erdem.”

Baldwin said participating in the Estonia pocket tournament will be a test. “We’re taking a 20-hour trip then we play three games in three days,” he said. “It wouldn’t be as tough if we went to Turkey first, then to Lithuania for additional training and finally to Estonia. But we can’t complain. It is what it is and we want to make the most of the situation.”

The team was scheduled to leave at 9 p.m. yesterday for Estonia. The plan is to return on Aug. 24 then leave for Taipei on Aug. 27 to play in the Jones Cup which is scheduled on Aug. 29-Sept. 6. Gilas will be back in Manila on Sept. 7 and will play in the MVP Cup against Lebanon, Chinese-Taipei and the Wellington Saints of New Zealand at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sept. 11-13.

The Estonia trip is a back-breaker as Gilas will play the host team, Iceland and the Netherlands on Aug. 20-22. It will be the first taste of competition for Gilas under Baldwin. The Jones Cup will pit Gilas against South Korea, Spartak Priomorye of Russia, Japan, Iran, the Saints, a US selection and two Chinese-Taipei teams.

“We’re putting the setbacks aside,” said team manager Butch Antonio. “We’ve got to work harder. What we’ll miss in Turkey, we hope to make up somehow. We’ll work with what we have. Coach Tab understands the situation.

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