From the moment Tab Baldwin was reassigned from Gilas head coach to active consultant and later official head coach of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP, the winds of change began to blow on the Philippine basketball scene.
Starting with a small gust of wind brought by a surprise Finals appearance in Season 79, Tab Baldwin and his Eagles have kicked up a storm, turning into a hurricane tearing through the Philippine basketball landscape. They’ve been ripping up expectations, leaving a trail of destruction that includes opponents, Filipino, and otherwise.
The old gods of Filipino basketball, the physicality, the tapang and the puso were shown to be no match for one American-Kiwi coach and his incredible wealth of basketball knowledge. A crown crafted from an unblemished season, 16 – 0, rests heavily on his head, as he continues to, whether he means to or not, whether he likes to or not, usher in a new era of basketball in the Philippines.
Philippine basketball is changing. It isn’t happening through the invisibly slow pace of evolution, but through the explosive destruction brought by having an international caliber coach heading a college sports program as if they were the national team.
Before his arrival, the formula for success in Philippine basketball was a matter of assembly. Get the best players you possibly can together and let the coach figure out how to deal with them. This created a recruitment boom on all levels of basketball competition, colleges pirating players, sending lawyers to pick up transfer documents, professional teams stacking up superstars on their favorite teams and the national team roster being composed of what could be mistaken for a FIBA-eligible All-Star team.
It was already evident from Tab’s Gilas stint that he did not put as much a premium on having superstar players as previous coaches did. While the concept of “team chemistry over star power” was not new to the program, with Chot Reyes boasting that teamwork and not individual star power got them to break the curse of Korea and book a ticket to the World Cup where we got to see Gabe Norwood dunk on the world stage (good times), Tab was better fit to see this concept realized.
It would be foolish to say that Tab’s techniques and philosophy are completely new to Philippine basketball. There have always been corners of less-heard voices preaching the things he does— player development, program consistency, and constant innovation. But they have long struggled to make their mark with most hesitating to embrace their concepts.
What his dominance has done is to bring these concepts out into the spotlight, brandishing them for all to see, and using them to pound the opposition into oblivion until they recognize that the old ways simply aren’t enough anymore.
But Tab is no Messiah of basketball. If he were, he would be nowhere near the Philippines and would instead be leading the New York Knicks to a deep playoff run, or going toe to toe with Duke’s Coach K during March Madness. No, he’s simply a very experienced coach, who has experienced handling several national teams successfully, and has been around the international basketball corner more times than anyone else in the 7,100+ islands of this archipelago.
Basketball is a copycat sport, what works gets copied, what works a lot gets turned into the norm. Through the natural pace of evolution, it would be inevitable that Philippine basketball would embrace or at least recognize the concepts that Tab teaches. By having him show it on the court, he forces everyone, especially the veterans of the game, the sage gatekeepers of all that is good in basketball to take a hard look at themselves, to hold their dearly held traditions in their hands and ask themselves if they are really worth clinging on to.
In his time with Philippine basketball, Tab has earned the respect, as well as the ire of his colleagues because of his tendency to point out their inadequacies, and the inadequacies of the prevailing culture. Those who have not shared the court with him will be quick to defend their honor from this “guest” that his collegiate opponents openly sing praises of. After all, he has yet to record a single professional win in the Philippines as head coach, so that’s something they’ll always have over him.
Destruction is not always bad. Destruction of old habits, burdens, and ways that simply don’t work anymore should be seen as the inevitable. Tab simply sped up the process by tearing up the Philippine basketball landscape with his new-fangled tactics and internationally successful basketball philosophies.
Since being reassigned to coach a college team, Tab has elevated the Blue Eagles to a scary level. Aside from their clean sweep of Season 82, they have made their mark on the international scene, making professional teams look bad with a 4th place finish in the Jones Cup. They were also the tune-up team of choice for the Australian team that helped Gilas tune-up for their FIBA tournament. And if reports are to be believed, not even his PBA team could escape destruction at the hands of Tab Baldwin’s Blue Eagles. What he does is not new, but he has the experience to do them well and to show they work. In leaving a trail of destruction, he ushers in the inevitable.