For Tab Baldwin, NBTC 2024 Shows The Upside Of Filipino High School Hoops

Coach Tab Baldwin is loving what he’s seeing in the NBTC 2024 National Finals, from better talent, to provincial squads stepping up their game. 

One can never question Tab Baldwin’s knowledge of Philippine basketball. At the collegiate level, the laid-back mentor has easily shown his mastery of the game, leading some near-unbeatable Ateneo Blue Eagle squads from 2018 to 2022. 

Outside Ateneo, Filipino basketball fans know Baldwin as the man who led Gilas Pilipinas to silver medal finishes in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments, and a one-time gold in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games. 

Given his credibility, it was only right to ask the Tab Baldwin about the Filipino high school basketball, as the NBTC National Finals held its second day at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Well, I really love the energy from the kids. I’m seeing a lot of really good guards, which is kind of typical for the Philippines” Baldwin told The GAME in an exclusive interview along the sidelines of MOA Arena.

“But I’m seeing better quality basketball players. They’re not just kids that, you know, play the game. They’re actually pretty good basketball players, and it’s great for the NBTC, and it’s great for [Philippine] basketball landscape,” the Ateneo mentor added. 

While he acknowledged coaches’ wish for more “6’6, 6’9 guys”, Baldwin did recognize the “effort and enthusiasm” players put in, while reiterating improved quality of talent.

Fil-Am Nation Select’s Jacob Bayla (NBTC)

Baldwin also acknowledged the improved coaching in the high school ranks. This, he said, adds to the already high ceiling of young Filipino hoopers, as current coaches make them “more talented, and ready to play”. 

“I mean, I see kids that are skilled, I see kids that play really hard, with passion, and I see kids that are making really good decisions on the court. I think a lot of that is a byproduct of good coaching,” he explained. 

The Ateneo mentor though, remained mum on his personal standouts. Understandable, given the “heavy recruiting phase” among the collegiate ranks, he said.

Beyond Metro Manila 

Another of Tab Baldwin’s observations was the skill of provincial squads in the NBTC National Finals. For instance, he cited how before the interview, St. Robert’s Iloilo almost pulled off an upset against Fil-Am Nation Select, before the latter carved out a 72-65 escape. 

Additionally, to start Day 2,  Quezon Province-based grassroots team Batang Tiaong orchestrated a wire-to-wire 61-57 win over Sacred Heart-Ateneo de Cebu. Notably, the school is led by Jared Bahay, the NBTCs number one ranked high school player, and one of Baldwin’s top recruits for his Blue Eagles’ rebuild. 

Batang Tiaong’s Mowell Morales and SHS-Ateneo’s Jelo Mar Rota. (NBTC)

“Davao had a [83-73] win yesterday [against Canada Crossover].  San Rafael…they had a good win over [Ateneo de Cebu] Sacred Heart high school team. You know? So the provincial teams are standing up and doing well so far…and you know, that speaks volumes about what’s happening outside Metro Manila, and what’s happening outside the bigger [basketball talent] centers,” said Baldwin.

Currently, the NBTC 2024 National Finals is on its seeding stages, with winners moving to Division 1, and losing teams to Divison 2. Knockout games would be played onwards to determine the finalists come Sunday, March 24.

While it remains to be seen, who knows? Maybe the next great Blue Eagle, or Tab Baldwin project might just be from the 32 high school squads competing for national glory in this tournament.

Banner Image from UAAP Media Bureau.

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