Gilas program shows signs of laying down building blocks for bigger goals | Inquirer Sports
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MARCHING FORWARD

Gilas program shows signs of laying down building blocks for bigger goals

/ 05:25 AM June 18, 2021
SJ Belangel's game winner gives Gilas Pilipinas rare win over South Korea.

SJ Belangel’s game winner gives Gilas Pilipinas rare win over South Korea. FIBA ASIA PHOTO

The Philippines’ come-from-behind victory over perennial rival South Korea was a stunner on so many levels—not the least of which is how the young Gilas Pilipinas squad responded to a physical and precise opponent.

“I don’t think we achieved offensive cohesion throughout the whole game,” said head coach Tab Baldwin. “Korea’s defense was a spoiling defense, it was very, very physical. And we weren’t ready for that. You can try to be as physical as you want in practice, and we did. But it’s not like playing games, and when you’re playing grown men, when you’re playing seasoned, experienced veterans.”

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“It’s a shame that we didn’t have 20,000 people in MOA (Mall of Asia Arena) watching that,” Baldwin added. “But … we had a country behind us. We could feel how much the country wanted something positive, and I think we were all extremely proud to be able to bring them something surprising.” To another coach very familiar with the Gilas program, however, it wasn’t that much of a surprise.

Talented, athletic

“A lot of people are asking me if it was a big surprise,” said Rajko Toroman, the pioneer taskmaster of the Gilas program who is now coaching Indonesia. “For me it’s not, because I saw this team in Bahrain and I’ve said that this is a very talented, athletic team,” Toroman said on Thursday, moments after Indonesia lost to South Korea, 104-81, in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers at Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga.

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“Now that they have [Kai] Sotto and [Ange] Kouame, they are looking like a very, very good team,” he added.

The 7-foot-3 Sotto and the 6-foot-10 Kouame are the cornerstones of the program heading into the World Cup. Throw in 6-foot-10 AJ Edu and 6-foot-4 guard Dwight Ramos and height will no longer be a problem for the national team.

So it would be a question of building character and chemistry.

Clinched slot

The 81-78 victory against Korea on Wednesday clinched for the Philippines a slot in the Asian championships this August in Indonesia. More importantly, it kicked off the national program’s path toward the World Cup that the country will cohost in 2023 with Japan and Indonesia. And from what Baldwin saw, it was the kind of kickoff the program needed.

“You know, so many guys made plays [against Korea],” Baldwin, who is also the program director of the national team, said. “I can’t even name all of them, but it was a great team effort. And that’s what we want, that’s what we expect.”

“I think that’s what we need in order to be successful at the elite level of Asia and ultimately in the World Cup,” he said.

And as the building blocks slowly fall in to place, the program is ready to march forward to bigger stakes.

“We’re just ready to work every time, every opportunity we get,” said Ramos, who led the Philippines against Korea with 16 points. “You just want to work. I think everyone has the right attitude going into the game, to practice. We are all looking for more improvement. I know we won the game today but I still think that everyone’s thinking about how to improve and thinking about the next game now.” INQ

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TAGS: Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers, Gilas Pilipinas, Korea
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