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Playing in his very first game for the Gilas Pilipinas men’s national basketball team, 18-year old Francis Leo “LeBron” Lopez showed the spectacular, the sublime and a glimpse into what the future may be, and head coach Tab Baldwin was quick to take note.
The youngest player to play for the Philippine men’s basketball team since Jun Limpot did it when he was just 17 years old in the 1989 Asian Basketball Confederation Championship, it was understandable that there was a lot of hype surrounding the Ateneo standout.
But rather than go in and try to stand out, Lopez played with composure beyond his years and ended up filling the stat sheet to the tune of eight points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in the Gilas’ 76-51 rout of Indonesia. Afterwards, Baldwin heaped on the youngster, especially for keeping his game in line with what the game needed.
“I could see that there was excitement there but he had an effort to play composed and to do the little things on both ends of the court,” said Baldwin.
Known for his slam dunks which he regularly put on display in the UAAP juniors tournament, the 6-foot-6 Lopez did not have any versus Indonesia. What he did show, though, was a penchant to do the little things on the floor, which Baldwin appreciated.
“We have a tendency here to get carried away with the spectacular on the basketball floor. The only thing that we want in our program to be spectacular are the results and the performances,” said Baldwin. "With Lebron buying in the way he is buying in, we might be sacrificing the highlights. But long term, we will have a tremendous basketball player in our hands."
With the Gilas up by just eight at halftime against Indonesia, the team’s coaching staff asked the players to be more disciplined. Lopez, who didn’t get to play in the first half, heard the message loud and clear and responded well, said Baldwin.
“That’s a great sign for a young player. We all know that Lebron can be a highlight film if he just goes out here and runs around wild and does crazy stuff. But I thought his discipline in particular and he didn’t pay in the first half, maybe he heard those words at halftime. He went out there and played with great composure. He was productive,” shared Baldwin.
"LeBron is there because we believe he belongs there and he belongs in the future. What he did tonight is a good start for him,” he added. (JNP)