Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reflecting this Holday Season with Tab Baldwin

Reflecting this Holday Season with Tab Baldwin
by rick olivares

It’s the Holiday Season and Thomas Anthony “Tab” Baldwin is savoring the good cheer, cold weather, and good vibes before 2017 is history.

“Actually, I think we’ve been booted from ‘basketball heaven’”, he says with a smile over coffee outside the gated La Vista subdivision where he stays while in Manila. “It’s time to look forward to the next challenge.”

The next challenges are either preparing for the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ Philippine Collegiate Champions League (the team is unsure whether to participate or not as the second semester is now for catching up on studies) and getting ready for the summer leagues. If the Blue Eagles participate in the PCCL, they will do so without three mainstays in Chibueze Ikeh, Vince Tolentino, and Kris Porter. “They’ve served their time,” chuckles Baldwin. “They’re free.”

“In all seriousness, it will be a different team now.”

There is something that Ateneo’s last two American mentors (Norman Black included) have brought to the Blue Eagles – live in the moment and forget yesterday because that is done. “I think it’s nice branding that ‘we’re defending champions’. But that was last season’s team. The new team doesn’t have the three guys who have graduated. This is going to be a different team and I want the boys to get used to that mentality. There’s always the next challenge.”

Make no mistake that Baldwin treasures the recently copped UAAP Men’s Basketball crown where they unseated the highly-fancied La Salle Green Archers. He does.

“I don’t think the level of basketball determines the magnitude of the achievement,” he reflects when asked about where this ranks amongst his accomplishments. “I won championships in New Zealand but nobody cares. You can jump up and down and say, “I’m a champion” but it depends. You can take Dirk Nowitzki winning in the German second division (with DJK Wurzburg) but it doesn’t compare to him leading the Dallas Mavericks to a NBA title. I am sure he would say the magnitude of a NBA championship is different.”

“So a UAAP championship in the landscape of Philippine basketball is high up there in any list. For our team it is a great achievement. Personally, I am past that point in my life where I rank achievements. I don’t see them as my achievement because I genuinely believe I was part of an effort of a swell bunch of guys. Only one guy can do this interview but we all share this.”

If you look at Baldwin’s view of basketball, it is about perspectives; paradigm shifts, if you will.

“With Ateneo, because I was going back to kids, I made a lot of mistakes last year,” he admits. “I tried to still be a professional coach and that was a mistake. This is the biggest correction I had to make. I had to grasp the fact that I was at an academic institution where I was here to develop young men and get them to next stage of their lives. And I owe an apology to a guy like GBoy Babilonia who I didn’t guide through that.”

“I learned a lot and I have to give all the credit to my assistant coaches for what they taught me for that first year -- how to adjust, how to adapt, and how to exist in the collegiate ranks. So when I changed my thinking that helped a lot too.”

Coming in, Baldwin broke the team down to its bare essentials and got players to look at the game differently.

For example, Ikeh was an enigma. He showed promise in his first year in the league then greatly struggled in the next. “Take for example a guy like Ikeh who we never believed we could get any offense out of much less three-point shooting,” points out the coach. “But as I observed he was always willing to work on his shot and even from three-point range. And who are we to tell the kid he cannot use that shot? It wasn’t fair to him. When we took that leash off him, we told him, ‘Ikeh, now you have to understand the game so you can make good decisions and when to take that shot.’”

While Nigerian center shot 23% from three-point range for the season, he did hit a crucial one against La Salle in the finals.  

“I would be reluctant to point to any one player who stepped up because they all did,” elaborates Baldwin. “Each one needed to be evaluated and we worked on a corresponding program. The players I would cite… when Matt Nieto came in there were all sorts of questions about his ability and his perimeter shot. We identified that and he worked under the careful instruction of our coaches to improve.” Nieto shot 43.4% from three-point range; a shade behind La Salle’s Jolo Go. But the Ateneo court general was at his lethal best in the clutch.

“Thirdy Ravena has all the physical potential but struggled with his decision-making. All of a sudden, he made a number of crucial and good decisions in key moments in end games. It is something we didn’t envisage to happen right away but he had to embrace that to improve in that aspect. And of course, there’s Isaac Go who had no confidence in his ability to perform at this level. Everybody wants to highlight the shot but what I want to highlight is he savored the opportunity to guard Ben Mbala because he learned so much about defense and to identify a player’s weakness. To utilize defensive schemes and work Ben into double teams.”

“We saw the improvement – embracing the process. This gave them the confidence to go out and make the big play – embracing the process. We are proud of the evolution of players.”

And believe it or not, for all the basketball analysts’ predictions, Baldwin and his staff never felt they “had it”.

“I don’t recall us as a coaching staff and saying, that was the tipping point,” he reveals. “All of a sudden, there was a sense of other teams figuring us out. But we were having strong fourth quarters. We began to feel an increased challenge from the league. When it became playoff time and FEU beats us, for the first time all season long, our backs were against the wall. But we survived FEU. Winning Game One against La Salle, we felt good. But we lost Game Two, and once more, our backs were against the wall. So I never felt that we had it; that this championship was ours. Everything was the next play, the next game, the next practice. It was staying in the moment which is hard for everybody. We emphasized it a lot. It helps us to avoid where are – is this ours. No, it was just the next play, the next practice, the next game.”

Nevertheless, the end result was Ateneo’s ninth UAAP men’s title and 23rd overall if you include the 14 won in the NCAA.

Even as Ateneo celebrated, Baldwin thought of his older brother Terry who he described as his best friend. “Growing up, it was Terry who fended off my older brothers when they’d pick on me. It was he who was always willing to listen and to pick me up. He told me that when we fall, we should learn the lessons from it so when we get right back up, we will succeed. He followed my career and missed out on this one. But I felt he was with me all the way. So I also dedicate this championship to him.”

Perspectives. Paradigm shifts.

At this time of the year in a country where endless merry-making is the order of the season, Thomas Anthony “Tab” Baldwin has taken time to reflect on a good year. And now he can smile.


  1. One of the things I look forward to is how his players will perform in the pros. The way Baldwin seems to run his program makes is look like he's coaching a "basketball class" instead of a "basketball team", based on what he says during all the new I read about him. Also hoping he participates in coaching seminars too, as there seems to be a lot of people, from interbarangay to even college coaches, who want to pick his brain.

  2. He lost 3 times, twice with DLSU and once with FEU; he almost lost twice to FEU. If FEU forced a 2 pt shot, he would have lost.

    He won 16 games, 1 in the Final 4, and twice in the Championship.

    It would be interesting to know if he can do a back-to-back like Black did. 3 frontliners will be replaced and I am sure that he will tweak the other positions.

    Let us trust and believe how PART 3 of his Life Story in ADMU will unfold.

    For myself, I am anticipating another Championship.