Gilas Pilipinas Men are currently training inside a “bubble” setup at the Inspire Sports Academy in Laguna for upcoming international tournaments. With a goal of building for the future, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) selected a young group of players to be part of the program under the tutelage of SBP program director Tab Baldwin.
The Gilas Men pool currently consists of William Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, Justine Baltazar, Dwight Ramos, Dave Ildefonso, Chris Koon, Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Matt and Mike Nieto, Jordan Heading, Tzaddy Rangel, LeBron Lopez, SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac, Troy Mallillin, Geo Chiu, Kyle Ong, Jason Credo, Josh Lazaro, Carl Tamayo of University, RJ Abarrientos, and naturalized player candidate Ange Kouame.
While leading the preparations in Laguna, Baldwin spoke recently on The Game on One News about handling young talent, the criteria for selecting players, the potential of LeBron Lopez, and how the training bubble will help advance the development of the Gilas program.
On training the ‘youngest Gilas group’ and preparing for the future
Not only is this the youngest Gilas group ever assembled, but it’s probably the youngest that could be assembled and still be called Gilas because if we went any younger we’d be calling them Batang Gilas… Everybody that we brought in here, I believe, is in some way a prospect for Gilas in the future if they fulfill their potential, and if they work to become the player that they are promising to be. Obviously, we’re looking for a Gilas team to play in the June competitions, but we’re also preparing for those situations in the future when we call players into the Gilas camp.
As it is right now, so many players come in and they just don’t have an idea of the international game and the concepts and the level of skill and the level of intensity. So if we can begin the process of teaching these younger players what that is all about, that really helps us in the future not have to deal with elevating the level of intensity and the level of understanding of our players when they come in in the future. So we’re trying to kill a lot of birds with just this one “bubble” stone, if you will. And so far so good, but it is really, really hard work for the coaches, and it’s probably unlike anything most of us have really tried to wrestle with.
On the criteria for selecting players
There’s certain criteria that we look at for international basketball players. I think that a lot of people would just say we just get the best players. And certainly the elite players at whatever age we’re talking about, we do want them. But beyond that, we’re looking for length in players, and we’re looking for intangibles. We’re looking for an advanced understanding of the game.
I’ll give you two good examples. RJ Abarrientos, who’s really not a big player at about 5’11”, and SJ Belangel, who is 6-foot and unfortunately hasn’t been able to train yet because of health issues, but these two guys are not really the physical prototypes that we’re looking for. They’re sort of on the Kiefer Ravena model, who’s a very, very clever basketball player who reads the game extremely well. Both RJ and SJ are cut from that same mold. So what they might lack in elite talent, they make up for in a basketball IQ that is very advanced… In the international game, because it is not an overly athletic game—it is a very, very intellectual game—a player like that can fit in even if they are physically a little bit inferior.
Those are the things we’re really looking for: elite talent [and] length. Players like Justine Baltazar are a great example of what we’re looking for, and then the guys that just have that IQ where the game comes easy to them in spite of their physical assets or deficiencies.
On international basketball being a ‘different animal’
I don’t care how experienced, say, a PBA player is even. If they haven’t had international experience, it’s a different animal. And it requires a different approach, it requires different coaching, it requires a different level of training intensity and sustained intensity. When you bring players in who aren’t used to that, the age doesn’t matter, really. It’s learning how to do that so you properly prepare yourself for the level that you’re going to face. And when you’re going to face Serbia and Dominican Republic, well, it just doesn’t get a lot tougher in the world than that. So we have to be super prepared and we have to be as tough as we can on these players, and so far we’re being pretty tough on them.
On the potential of LeBron Lopez
He is an outstanding athlete. He certainly fits the criteria of length that we’re looking for—long arms, athletic guy and very, very active, a lot of energy. But LeBron has a lot to learn—the concepts of the game. understanding the nuances of execution. But he’s just a great kid, willing to learn and always attentive when the coaches are talking to him, and always competitive when it’s time to play. He has a very bright future. I think he’s in a great situation here in the Gilas bubble. He gets along really well with the others. There’s humility to the kid, too. Understanding that he’s the youngest, he doesn’t try to big-shot anybody because he has a big name and a big following, but he doesn’t act like that at all. I really appreciate the kid, he’s doing a great job.