The Veteran Squad and the New Coach: Can Smart Gilas’ Experienced Squad Mesh with New Head Coach Tab Baldwin?

The pressure is on new head coach Tab Baldwin (right) to help Smart Gilas Pilipinas show well in the FIBA Asia championship.

There are a lot of stories dominating the landscape at the FIBA Asia championship from September 23-October 3, especially with an Olympics berth on the line.

As the FIBA Asia enters the second round, I am writing a two-piece post examining two squads that I find the most interesting in this tournament: China and the Philippines. These two teams in my mind have the most at stake this tournament, especially considering they have gone through some ups and downs the past few years in terms of International success.

In this post, I am going to take a look at Smart Gilas Pilipinas (the team name for the Filipino Men’s National Team), their experienced roster, and how they will fare in new head coach Tab Baldwin’s first international competition as Gilas head coach.

You can also find the previous post on China, Yi Jianlian and Zhou Qi here.

Jayson Castro (7, white) is one of the key veterans for this Gilas squad at the FIBA Asia.

Smart Gilas is coming off one of their best stretches in international team play history, and yet, there still are a lot of questions lingering with this squad. In 2013, in front of Filipino fans in Manila, Gilas finished 2nd in the FIBA Asia tournament, which qualified them for their first FIBA World Championship (now FIBA World Cup) since 1978. Though they failed to advance to the second round in the FIBA World Cup in 2014, they did win their first game in almost 40 years, as they beat Senegal 81-79 and put up sterling efforts in losses against established programs such as Croatia (81-78 in OT), Argentina (85-81) and Puerto Rico (77-73). Though the 1-4 record wasn’t ideal, it was obvious that Gilas had gained some necessary international experience on the big stage that would help the national team going forward.

Unfortunately, things fell apart for Gilas in the 2014 Asian Games, as the squad, without Andray Blatche (who didn’t qualify for the Asian Games due to naturalization issues, which were different for those games from normal FIBA ones), finished a disappointing 7th. The team went 1-2 in group play, with a disappointing 95-93 loss to Korea, and a huge 77-68 upset to Qatar, ranked 48th in the FIBA world rankings. The underwhelming performance, as well as issues with personality and player rotations resulted in long-time national team coach Chot Reyes being forced out and replaced with Tab Baldwin.

Baldwin is not totally unfamiliar with the national team, as he served as a consultant recently to Reyes and Gilas. However, he has a plethora of coaching experience at the international level, as he coached New Zealand (which is his national background, as well as American) from 2001-2006 and helped the “Tall Blacks” qualify for the FIBA World Championship in 2002. After his tenure as coach of New Zealand, he also had stints with Lebanon and Jordan, helping rebuild and raise the respectability of those programs to where they are today (Lebanon is ranked 34th and Jordan is ranked 29th).

But, while Baldwin did fantastic jobs with New Zealand, Lebanon and Jordan, his tenure with Gilas is unlike anything he’s ever coached. He hasn’t coached a national squad whose fans are as basketball-crazy as the Philippines. He hasn’t dealt with an organizational structure that has been its own worst enemy for decades (the Philippines have been suspended by FIBA from international play 3 separate times since the 1970’s). Baldwin certainly has the coaching acumen and chops to help Gilas become a power in Asia up there with China and Iran. But, the same could have been said of Reyes, who ended up being forced out after a successful stretch due to one shoddy performance in the Asian games.

Coming into the tournament as one of the favorites, Baldwin’s tenure started disastrously as Gilas was upset by Palestine 75-73, who just recently resurrected their national team basketball program, was unranked by FIBA and was playing in their first FIBA Asia tournament in history. Gilas played a sloppy game, marred by unforced turnovers, missed open shots (including a lot of missed bunnies, i.e. layups), and a lack of rhythm on the offensive and defensive end. Little known Jamal Abu Shamala scored 26 points, had 15 rebounds and an efficiency rating of 29, thus displaying Gilas’ lack of tenacity and urgency on the defensive end. If you look at the highlights below, it is obvious that Gilas at times coasted a bit too much, and that resulted in Palestine not only hanging around, but seizing enough opportunities for the upset victory.

While Gilas certainly could have packed it in after such a humiliating loss, Baldwin has rallied his veteran squad to win 3 straight games, as they beat Hong Kong (101-50) and Kuwait (110-64) by impressive margins, and beat Japan 73-66 in their first second round game late last night/early this morning. The team was led by Blatche who scored 18 points and nabbed 10 rebounds despite dealing with a nagging ankle injury he suffered early in the Japanese game. Also, youngster Terrence Romeo had a solid game with 12 points and two steals, giving Filipino fans hope in the future of their program, which is undoubtedly Romeo.

Gilas has not changed much playing style-wise under Baldwin, as they still utilize the Dribble Drive offense to great extent and rely on their speed and quickness on both the offensive and defensive end. Gilas is at their best in transition, especially off live ball turnovers, especially with quick guards and wings such as long-time national team members Jayson Castro and Gabriel Norwood, and newer members like Romeo and Matthew Ganuelas. Even in their loss against Palestine, when Gilas was in transition, they looked like one of the best teams in the tournament.  When things slowed down, and they were forced to create offense in the half court, they tended to struggle and be wildly inconsistent.

Unlike China, which is extremely young, this Gilas team is a more veteran squad, as they have an average age of 31 and have only two members of the team 25 and under (Ganuelas and Romeo). Thus, the emphasis with this squad is “win now”. That is especially evident with the inclusion of naturalized citizen Blatche, whose inclusion on the team has sparked a lot debate on the presence of naturalized citizens who have little to no apparent connections to the countries they represent. If you haven’t read it already, take a retrospective look at this piece by Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew, the author of “Pacific Rims” and a leading authority on Filipino basketball. It definitely gives some perspective on why Blatche is not only on the Filipino team, but how he has adjusted to not just the team, but the culture of the Philippines as well. It may change your view on Blatche or other naturalized players playing in FIBA international competitions (Jerome Randle of Chicago did this with Ukraine in this recent Eurobasket). It may not. At the very least, it will give you more information and perspective on the process.

Gilas will need a strong, and refined, performance from Andray Blatche to win the FIBA Asia championship and qualify for their first Olympics since 1972.

But back to Blatche, he as well as other veterans such as Castro, Norwood and forward Jean Marc Pingris are essential to Gilas’ chances at this FIBA Asia championship. Blatche especially shoulders a majority of the burden, as Gilas has struggled against teams in the past with bigger, more natural post players before Blatche arrived. In the FIBA Asia championship game in 2013, Iran bullied Gilas thanks to former NBA player Hamed Haddadi. That being said, Gilas did not have Blatche then, and now, Gilas has that weapon in the post to go head to head with Iran’s best player. It definitely makes their game on Monday night one worth watching, just for that Blatche-Haddadi matchup alone.

If Baldwin can do anything to improve this Gilas squad, it may center on utilizing the talents of his players within Gilas’ system, and preventing them from playing out of control. This veteran squad has many players who have been playing professional ball for a long time, and playing international competition is a whole lot different due to so many different talents needing to mesh together in such a limited amount of time. Many of the players play together or against one another in the PBA (Philippines Basketball Association), so they are used to the Dribble Drive style that is primarily played in the PBA (though the Triangle is utilized a lot, thanks to successful PBA coach Tim Cone). However, for some, Blatche especially, since he plays professionally in China, this adjustment can be a process.

How Baldwin handles and manages this issue will be key, primarily with Blatche. Even early on this tournament, it seems like Blatche can be a “ball-killer” on offense, preferring to play at the top of the arc rather than down in the block (which is something he’s always had a problem with, especially in the NBA with Washington and Brooklyn) and go 1-on-1 with his head down and not seeing the open wings sitting in the corners for the 3-point shot. Blatche is multi-talented, and when he’s on, he is probably one of the best players in the FIBA Asia player pool. But when he’s off, he can be a high-usage rate killer that can easily sink teams and squander leads, as was the case time to time in their loss against Palestine.

Gilas needs Blatche to be successful. There is no downplaying that. But, Gilas as a whole is better when they’re penetrating to the rim, kicking out to open shooters for three’s or finishing for layups. Watching players like Castro is so enjoyable to watch because he fits in the Dribble Drive so seamlessly, as he is able to time and time again on the drive finish at the rime gracefully or easily find his teammates beyond the arc for open shots. If you watch these highlights against Kuwait, this is Filipino basketball in a nutshell: fast-paced, shooting three’s, and aggressive play on both ends.

Blatche can fit in this, and he has fit in it before. But when he tries to do too much, tries to dribble too much, tries to play 1 on 1 too much and settles for lackluster mid-range shots, he is limiting himself as a player and limiting Gilas’ chances at being consistently successful. That is Baldwin’s challenge as Gilas coach, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can figure out this challenge as Gilas progresses further and faces tougher competition deeper in the tournament (starting with Iran).

There is no doubt this Gilas team is arguably one of the best in the country’s history. And after playing in the FIBA World Cup in 2014, it would be a tremendous boost for the country to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, which the Philippines has not qualified for since the 1972 games in Munich. Gilas has the experienced horses in place, and Baldwin has done a tremendous job with this team after their early set-back against Palestine. However, playing their style of play against Hong Kong and Kuwait is one thing, doing it against Iran, China and Korea is another. If Baldwin can get Gilas to play their style and play it efficiently against Asia’s powers, then it is strongly possible that the Philippines will break their long-time Olympic drought much like they broke their FIBA World Championship drought in the last FIBA Asia in 2013.

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A Primer to Flannel, PBR and PER

So, if you are looking at this post, that means you have found “Flannel, PBR and PER” a NBA-centric blog that focuses primarily on NBA and Sacramento Kings analysis from a hipsterish guy who lives in Kansas City. I have created a lot of different kinds of blogs, but hopefully FPP satisfies everything I want to write about: basketball and my affinity for Kansas City hipster culture. This blog is meant for two types of people: people who enjoy reading about the NBA and profressional basketball (with a little college sprinkled in) and what Kansas City has to offer to young professionals who like to go against the grain from what is typically expected from those in that demographic (i.e. people who aren’t into the whole being married with kids by 25 thing).

Also, this blog will focus primarily on the Sacramento Kings. Why the Kings? Well, I am from Sacramento originally, and though I grew up a Warriors fan, I have grown in affinity for the Kings mainly because A.) I am a perennial sucker for the underdog and B.) Kansas City reminds me a lot of Sacramento, and the Kings used to be in Kansas City, so it only makes sense that if I am living in Kansas City, that I should primarily root for the Sacramento Kings. With the help of league pass and my own general following of Sacramento Kings blogs, I will also be analyzing and covering the Kings on a regular basis throughout the year (though do expect general NBA analysis as well as some D-League coverage).

What to expect from FPP? Well, a different kind of NBA blog that’s for sure. There are a lot of great basketball blogs out there, and hopefully, FPP can offer something that is different, fresh, analytical, and a source that Kansas City hipsters can appreciate. Maybe me promoting this blog in this kind of fashion in the first post may not strike a chord with the KC hipster scene, but to be honest? I am doing this blog in the way I want to, whether it satisfies that scene or not.

After all, how many hipster NBA blogs are out there anyways? Only one on tumbler for all I know (but props for its post on Jason “White Chocolate” Williams).

Iron and Wine, Chucks and Pour-Over Coffee: The Chronicle of a Self-Hating Hipster

“I asked you a question and I didn’t need you to reply
Is it getting heavy?
But then I realize, is it getting heavy
Well, I thought it was already as heavy as can be”

-Iron and Wine from “Waiting for Superman”

Being in your late 20’s is a weird thing. I am 28 now. I live in Kansas City, a city that I would have never though I would ever reside in back when I was in high school. In the six years since I have graduated college, I have been to many different places, experienced many different things, been through different relationships and relished my own unique joys, and walked through my share of painful valleys. Furthermore, it’s amazing too how life, culture, society has changed in the six years since I left Gonzaga and made my way toward Culver City, California. Back in 2009, the touch phone was still a luxury, twitter was just becoming relevant, and I’m sure there was still a size-able minority that still thought MySpace was a legitimate form of Social Media.

However, the biggest rise in the past six years has been the emergence of the Hipster. Yes, the coffee-drinking, flannel-wearing, Chuck taylor and rolled up jean sporting socialite that has become such a recognizable figure in our society. Much like the Beatnik to the 50’s, the hippie to the 60’s, the yuppie to the 80’s, the hipster is the “culture” of the 2010’s. Some people embrace it thinking of it as the new progressive approach to life. Others despise it as a hypocritical figure of 21st century consumerism. Whatever side of the fence you find yourself on, the “hipster” will generate debate in all kinds of communities and forms.

The “hipster” debate always strikes a chord with me though because it is tough for me to not find myself falling into that taboo demographic. After all, I am in my late 20’s, PBR and Miller High Life tend to be my beer of choice (typical for hipsters), I have found myself shopping for flannel shirts at thrift stores as of late and I have grown to adore Indie folk bands (such as Iron and Wine, Mumford and Sons and Low Roar), even going to concerts here in Kansas City, which is something very atypical of me (I have never been a concert-goer until this past year). So with this being the case, why do I to hesitate to consider myself a hipster? Why do I still feel anxious to categorize myself as someone that is characteristic of the decade that we currently live in?

The answer to that question is really two-fold, stemming from both my previous relationships here in Kansas City. The first part centers on my second-to-last ex who I moved here to Kansas City from Pine Ridge for. In all honesty, she really was a hipster. She listened to that indie folk music (though she also tended to listen to a lot of hip-hop, so she was kind of a “uber-hipster” I guess, if that does exist), she always wore beanies, she tended to be very anti-consumerism with her shopping, preferring farmer’s markets and thrift stores (which was mostly due to her best friend, who was totally on that spectrum), had tattoos, and also smoked and preferred cheap “non-popular” beer (i.e. not Bud Light). After we broke up, though I found myself enjoying a lot of the same interests, I did not want to admit it because it brought up painful memories. Memories of her, both good and bad, whenever I engaged in these “hipster” activities. And that is why I did not want to typify myself as such a person: it would put me in her category, and not only would it make me recall less-than-stellar memories, but make me feel as if I was her, which would make me feel worse, almost masochistic, since I was embodying her in some way by embracing “hipster-ism” even though the ending of that relationship had been so painful and life-altering that October through January of last year. It sounds strange of course to think like that, but it’s funny how a relationship, both current and past, can alter our mindset or approach to mainstream activities, even if it is fun or gears toward our interests.

So, I didn’t want to be hipster initially because of my first ex. But that was only the first part. The second part centered around my last ex, who was a Latina woman in her 30’s who had 3 kids. This woman was the total opposite of my first ex  (i.e. not hipster at all). She liked Latin and pop music, she tended to be more traditional when it came to buying food, clothing, etc (i.e. fell in line with the common consumer trends), and didn’t see how the “hipster” lifestyle was attractive or ideal in the slightest. It seemed like the perfect fit. Not only was I with this attractive woman, but she was the complete polar opposite of my last ex. If anything was going to drive me away from being a “hipster”, it was this woman and this relationship.

Instead, I found my tendency to gear toward the “hipster” ways pop up from time to time. When it came to BBQs, I would buy PBR or High Life, and she would make a remark about that. She constantly made note that my personality would be a better fit for one of her single “hipster” friends rather than her (this was probably a sign that this relationship was not going to work: when your girlfriend suggests that maybe you should be dating their friend rather than her because you share a like for flannel, a band or a certain brand of beer). Of course, I tried to fight against it: I liked Romeo Santos, I tended to fall too “in-line” with society to be categorized as a “hipster”, I was done with the “single” scene typical of someone my age. And for about 11 months, we were able to believe that, think that was the case, and carry our relationship as if we were really truly meant to be with each other despite our difference in personality, and specifically my own “lingering” personality characteristics being suppressed (though willingly on my end at the time).

Of course though, things did not work. That relationship ended for a multitude of reasons, but one of the subtle reasons? I was too hipster for her. I didn’t fit in with her personality, how she did things, etc. We were too different, going in two different directions, and we have not spoken since we broke up in November. Sad in many ways of course, but in the end it was a good thing. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was being someone I wasn’t, just to be in that relationship, thinking that was the main way I would be happy (being in a relationship with kids and raising a family, i.e the mindset of every 20-something in the Midwest.). As the months passed though, I began to come to the realization that it was good that I wasn’t in that relationship anymore. I wasn’t happy in that relationship at the end of the day. I wasn’t myself. And when you’re not yourself, it’s hard to maintain any kind of happiness, no matter how awesome or beautiful or supportive the other person in the relationship is.

So since that endeavor ended, I have been single since. And in my own “solo” status, I have grown to understand myself a little more. And for some reasons, being “hipster” comes back to the forefront. Was being a “hipster” such a bad thing? Was I a hipster in the purest sense? No. I didn’t have tattoos and didn’t plan on getting anytime soon. I don’t wear bottleneck glasses. I don’t live on my parents’ trust fund account. But the other aspects? Yeah, I guess I can consider myself hipster in that sense. But did that make me happy? Did that make me feel comfortable with myself? Or would it be another crutch, much like that last relationship with the 30-something-year-old mother?

In April, I bought tickets to the “Middle of the Map” concert at the Uptown Theater that featured Sean Rowe, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Strand of Oaks and Iron and Wine. It was something uncharacteristic for me because I didn’t go to concerts. I didn’t see myself as a “music” guy by any means, let alone enough of one to go to a concert that featured the artists above. But I had my own “fuck it” moment and decided to do it, to do something different, even if it cost money and was out of my comfort zone. Would it be a hipster fest? Perhaps, but maybe I could determine if this was something I wanted and was comfortable with or if it was just a phase, a inkling that didn’t lead anywhere.

Sean Rowe and Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear killed it, while Strand of Oaks left a lot to be desired (I can’t get into a band that’s trying to be indie folk and metal at the same time; it’s like Mexican-Asian fusion cuisine…just doesn’t fit IMO). But what really hooked me, changed things for me that night was Sam Beam (i.e. Iron and Wine), especially his rendition of “the Trapeze Swinger”. This isn’t an exact version, but the video below is very similar to what he performed at the Uptown that April night.

Amazing, right? Well, after that night, that performance, my perspective on everything just changed. Being there, listening to him, along with a completely attentive crowd of 20-something hipsters dressed in flannel, rolled up jeans, bottleneck glasses, etc, I felt completely at ease. In that eight-plus minute acoustic performance, I felt as if I had broken from chains of anxiety, doubt, and to be perfectly blunt, shit. It was as if I had fallen back into a river and while lying on my back, I was just letting the water float me down the river, away from everything, away from my first hipster ex who brought me to KC, and my last relationship, which I still pressed about since I felt guilty about not only leaving her, but her children as well. As I floated on this river with the sounds of the “Trapeze Swinger” ringing in my ears, those two figures (my exes) simply started to disappear in the horizon, as the river took me somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere where I could be truly myself and happy. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time, and certainly not at any point in my tenure in Kansas City since arriving in July of 2013.

And that is what I figured out about being “hipster”. Am I a hipster in the purest sense? It is it something I strive to be? Is it something I hold as collateral over other people to show I am better than them? Of course not. That is not me. It will never be me. However, I am hipster to some extent, and there is something freeing in that. I can say I am hipster not because I am comparing myself to someone or some time in my life, but simply because it is what describes me and brings out the best me and puts me in a good place. I wear flannel that I buy from the thrift store because I like the way it looks and it is cheap (4 bucks!). I get pour over coffee from “Oddly Correct” in Kansas City because it is delicious coffee. I wear Chuck Taylors for the first time in my life and they feel comfortable. I actually give a damn about music, especially Indie Folk. I can spend my nights listening to Iron and Wine, drinking PBR and playing Solitaire and be totally at peace. Maybe I’m not 100% hipster and maybe most hipsters who I bump into may “poo-poo” me thinking I am trying to “fit in” or “conform” in a non-genuine way. Despite what others may perceive or recognize though, in my mind, I consider myself a majority hipster and that is fine…

Because more importantly…I feel free.

“Freedom hangs like heaven over everyone
Ain’t nobody knows what the newborn holds

But his mama says he’ll walk on water
And wander back home…”

Iron and Wine from “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven”