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Tab Baldwin (NZL/USA)
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Baldwin excited to be back on the court

MANILA (FIBA Basketball World Cup/2015 FIBA Asia Championship) - Tab Baldwin hit the hardwood this week for the first time as the head coach of Gilas Pilipinas to begin preparing for the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) tournament and the Southeast Asian Games.

The Philippines, who hosted the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and finished runners-up to reach the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, are looking to keep the momentum going.

They will play in the FIBA Asia Championship later this year and try to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Last year in Seville, the Philippines were a revelation.

They entered the tournament as big underdogs but nearly upset Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico.

Gilas signed off with a victory over Senegal.

It's far too early to know what the make-up of the roster is going to be at the Asia Championship in China later this year.

Right now, Baldwin, who has recently retired national team guard Jim Alapag, as well as Nash Racela and Josh Reyes assisting him in practices this week, is working with college players in the country and seeing which ones have the potential to be with the national team now or in the future.

Alapag, who played at Spain 2014, put on his basketball shoes a few days ago to take part in the PBA All-Star festivities.

Among the players working out with Baldwin are UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) Most Valuable Players Kiefer Ravena of Ateneo and his NCAA Philippines counterpart Scottie Thompson of Perpetual Help, Mac Belo of Far Eastern University, Troy Rosario of National University, Jeric Teng, Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal and Prince Rivero of De La Salle Green Archers.

Speaking to the local media, Baldwin showed a boyish enthusiasm about returning to the hardwood to coach.

"You can tell I'm excited," he said. "It's thrilling to be back in this environment. It's been a while."

This is not the first time that Baldwin has held the reins of a national team and it's not his first involvement with Gilas.

He served as an advisor to former Philippines coach Chot Reyes in the build-up to the World Cup.

Baldwin previously coached the men's national teams of New Zealand, Lebanon and Jordan, with his tenure at the helm of the Tall Blacks what he is best known for.

He steered the Kiwis into the Semi-Finals of the 2002 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Indianapolis.

A very important point of emphasis for Baldwin is to get all of the players in the Philippines national team program to understand how he wants them to play defense and especially against the pick-and-roll.

"The pick and roll game is so pervasive in the game today," he said.

"Everybody is using that. So defensively, you have to start there.

"You can be a good defensive team against the pick and roll, then you force your opponents to do the things they're not so comfortable of doing."

As for what he envisions in the upcoming SEABA tournament, Baldwin said: "We want pressure basketball. We want our opponent to commit a lot of mistakes and keep the pressure on offensively.

We want to be simple in our game and extremely aggressive - Baldwin

"I think that suits the nature of Filipinos," Baldwin said.

"That's what we want to do. We want to put their strengths under pressure and force them to their weaknesses."

The SEABA Tournament will be staged 27 April to 1 May, and serve as a qualifying event for the FIBA Asia Championship.

Baldwin, meanwhile, has not been working in secrecy. He has opened the doors to training for observers to see what his approach is going to be.

"Look, we are a national program and we belong to the country," Baldwin said.

"Our job is not to be exclusive, it has to be inclusive of what we do.

"If other coaches want to come along and they feel they could learn something, that's fantastic."