Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin is hoping their so-called “Sixth Man” would show up once the Nationals take on superior rivals in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament set from July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A relatively small crowd rooted behind Gilas Pilipinas on its 81-70 victory over three-time Asian champion Iran in their tuneup match on Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum and Baldwin, 58, could not help but be a little bit disappointed with the fans’ turnout.
“I was kind of hoping for it to be full, to be honest,”said the American-Kiwi coach during the post-match press conference. “This is our national team. I think people should be fawning over themselves, especially against an Asian giant like Iran.”
Although it’s far from what Baldwin expected, the local fans inside the Big Dome made sure their presence was felt in the stretch when the Iranians, boosted by their smaller contingent of supporters, threatened within 70-72 after falling behind by as many as 20 points in the third canto.
Foremost among the Nationals who pumped it up with the crowd was naturalized player Andray Blatche, who made a crucial three-point play and a pair of defensive gems in the stretch that helped them stave off the stubborn Iranians.
“It’s a good sign that he wants to connect with the fans,” said Baldwin, adding he’s hoping the 6-foot-11 Blatche would be given the warm reception that charismatic guard Terrence Romeo, one of the fan favorites, got early in the match.
“I think he would love it if he was applauded at introduction as loud as Terrence was. Or something like that. I think they should all be applauded roundly and loudly,” he added.
“But it’s good to see him connect with the fans. I like guys to stay in the moment, in the game. I’m not a big rah-rah guy, but I’m a dinosaur. I think I’ll lose that battle.”
But Baldwin remains hopeful that the local cage fans will come out in full force in their future battles, something that crowd darling Barangay Ginebra enjoys even on a regular season match.
“It was great that they got excited and into the game, but I don’t pull punches with people. I’m appreciative of every single person in the stadium tonight,” noted Baldwin.
“I’m just a little confused why more of those seats weren’t full. And this is actually a backhanded compliment to a team like Ginebra, but if Ginebra can fill that place, why can’t Gilas?” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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