CALAMBA, Laguna - The lead up to the final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers has been long and difficult for Gilas Pilipinas Men and every other national team affected by the delays.
The cancellation of the first Clark bubble and the Doha bubble affected all the participating teams. Now that the games are finally confirmed with the blessing of the IATF, there's finally light at the end of this very long tunnel and Program Director Tab Baldwin is zoned in on focusing on the positives even with all the challenges they continue to face.
"I think we have to feel blessed that we are getting as much training as we are. The real problem is we can't get players into game shape because we're not having games.
"With this younger group, there's a lot of teaching so we don't get that much scrimmage time," Baldwin said as the pool is currently ramping up their preparations in Calamba, Laguna.
For the mentor, the tougher aspect of the delays was the breaks that they needed to take. Right after the cancellation of the Doha bubble, Gilas Pilipinas Men had to stop their training. Their momentum was halted again when with the community quarantine in NCR+.
"The biggest disadvantage with the breaks, when we get them, is that our fitness doesn't quite get to the game fitness that we want and I think most of our competitors are playing in leagues now so they'll have that game fitness and game experience. This will probably be our biggest challenge," he explained.
The unique situation for Gilas is that the SBP has put them inside a training bubble. Aside from classes for those who are still in college and high school, it's all basketball all the time in Calamba with two-a-day training sessions, gym workouts, and team video sessions.
"The advantage we have is we'll probably have more hours on the court with this group of players. While the other countries might be playing in games, they're not actually functioning as a national team, so we have to consider that an advantage," Baldwin said.
If there's one thing that the Program Director thinks could really help with the team's performance, it would be to get games under their belt as a team.
"We have a group that lacks experience to start with and now many of them have not played a game in two years," the coach said, pointing to those who are still in the amateur ranks. "That's going to be a significant disadvantage but we just have to build this chemistry the best we can and hopefully we get some preparation games in early June. If we do that, it would mean a lot to us. If we don't, then I can expect that we'll be pretty rusty in the first game or maybe the first couple of games."
Baldwin for his part has been happy with the effort his team is putting in. However, he's perfectly clear in saying it is what's to be expected since this is for Gilas Pilipinas and nothing short of the maximum effort will do.
"This is a national team. This is what they should be doing but I'm happy with the effort, the individual effort," he said. "I'm happy with the effort of the coaches, our management, our staff, and utility people. It's a heavy workload but this is professional basketball. This is what we should be doing and this is how they'll learn how to become professional basketball players. The Gilas program is about that right now. It's not about us taking professionals and getting them to play as a team, this is about building professionals."
The pandemic has severely affected all aspects of life in the entire world and Baldwin knows that being able to focus on basketball in a time like this is already a huge blessing. The hope is that their effort as a squad in training would translate to good performances on the court to give Filipino basketball fans a reason to smile.
"With the limitations that the pandemic has imposed on us and everybody else, nothing comes easy for anybody right now for an. This is not a time to be complaining," Baldwin closed. "This is a time to count your blessings and do the work that you can and help these players develop as much as they can."