MANILA, Philippines -- The young Gilas Pilipinas team is coming off an impressive campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, but head coach Tab Baldwin warns that the squad may be in for some "rough spots" in the near future.
The Philippine team, featuring players who have not played a single second in the PBA, swept their last three games in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers -- including two massive victories over South Korea. They also clobbered Indonesia, 76-51.
"You know considering this is a long-term project, the results really flatter us," Baldwin said on "The Chasedown." "We weren't expecting these kinds of results this early."
Gilas Pilipinas stunned South Korea, 81-78, on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by SJ Belangel in their first game of the qualifiers in Clark, Pampanga. It was the first time that the Philippines had beaten their longtime rivals since the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships. Four days later, the young Gilas squad completed a shock sweep of the Ra Gun-ah-led South Koreans, 82-77.
In between the South Korea games, they also outclassed an Indonesian squad led by former PBA import Lester Prosper and coached by former Philippine team mentor Rajko Toroman.
"I think a lot of the credit has to go to the players, and obviously to the guys that are working with the team, the coaching staff and our management team. I think everybody's done a lot of hard work to this point," said Baldwin, who is with the national team in Serbia for the upcoming FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Yet as impressive as the national team has been, Baldwin is quick to point out that they are still early in the process -- a sentiment shared by everyone in the program.
The coach and other stakeholders in the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) have repeatedly stressed that the goal for the team and the federation remains the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which the country is co-hosting with Japan and Indonesia.
"It's clear in our minds and the players' minds that we're really at the beginning," Baldwin stressed. "So, we want to temper expectations going forward."
"We know that there are some rough spots coming," he also warned.
Those rough spots can come this week, as the Philippines will compete in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia. They are grouped with the home team and the Dominican Republic, with the top two squads advancing to the crossover semifinals.
Only the winner of the OQT will punch a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics.
Baldwin knows that Gilas will be a massive underdog against both teams. Indeed, he considers Serbia as "probably the second-best team" in the world at the moment, just behind reigning Olympic champions United States.
"It's a powerhouse roster. They have a great coach in Igor Kokoškov. They're a group of guys that have played together through the years. They understand one another, and they play the game at a very, very high level," he said.
"And Dominican (Republic) is a powerful, athletic team. Very big, very, very, very strong team, physical team. They have great guards. Both teams are exceptional," he added.
But these kinds of games and this type of experience are exactly what the young players of Gilas Pilipinas need in order to develop, according to Baldwin.
"If we want to learn to play at this elite level in the world, then we need to take a lot of lessons out of this experience here," he said.
Thus, he welcomes the possible "rough spots" that the team will experience and sees them as a positive.
"We intend to work through those and learn our lessons from those, and be the team that we wanna be in 2023," the coach said.
Gilas returns to action early morning on July 1 against Serbia, with the game set to tip-off at 2:15 a.m., Manila time. They play the Dominican Republic at 2:30 a.m. the next day.