MANILA - Tab Baldwin and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas are walking a tightrope when it comes to their preparation for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which the country will co-host together with Japan and Indonesia.
Their vision, however, is very clear. If things work out the way they are supposed to, the Philippines can field a historically talented team for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
"In terms of experience we still will be (underdogs)," Baldwin said on the Call to Arms podcast with Nikko Ramos.
"But in terms of talent, size? We should be able to be eye-to-eye with the best in the world," he stressed.
The road to 2023 started earlier this year, when SBP put together a pool of players that will compete in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021. It was filled with young players, some of whom have never seen action in the senior level before.
Despite having only a short time to prepare, the team still started on the right note, beating Indonesia 100-70 in their lone game of the first window of qualifiers. TNT consultant Mark Dickel called the shots for the squad, which was captained by Kiefer Ravena.
Baldwin, the program director for Gilas Pilipinas, explained that they are "serving two masters" in their preparation, though the "principal master" is 2023.
They have to mold the young players who are part of the national team pool so that they can keep improving, while at the same time field competitive teams for tournaments in 2020, 2021, and 2023. Baldwin acknowledges that this is a delicate balancing act, especially with the eyes of the nation focused on every move that they make.
"Really, you have to develop a plan, you have to have integrity to that plan, and you have to keep working it, day after day after day, focusing on the future," he said. "While at the same time, understanding that the pressure of the present is real."
"And when the present is right in front of you, you have to do everything you can to perform to the best of your ability, knowing that the present is also part of the future," he added.
Baldwin knows that plenty can happen between now and 2023. Already, the Philippines' qualifying campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 hit a snag when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of their game against Thailand.
But should all their plans work out, Baldwin can see Gilas Pilipinas rolling out a truly impressive team that will be anchored by June Mar Fajardo, Kai Sotto, AJ Edu, and a naturalized player. He can see a much-improved Troy Rosario, Kobe Paras, Carl Tamayo, and Justin Baltazar joining the squad as well.
"That's a frontline of eight guys, two of which should be able to play guard by that time -- Kobe and Troy. By 2023, they should be able to play the wing position if we train them properly," said Baldwin.
"Then you go to the guard position, take your pick. We're a country of guards, and I don't think we're gonna have any problems," he added. "Our frontline has always been an issue."
Should their plan work, the Philippines' frontline would no longer be a weakness, but a strength. Baldwin believes that their team can stand toe-to-toe with any other national team in the world.
"When, as a Filipino, have we ever been able to have that kind of perspective and that view?" he said. "That's what we're trying to build and develop and work towards."
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