BEIRUT: Thomas “Tab” Baldwin was announced as the coach to lead Lebanon into this year’s Basketball World Championships by Lebanon Basketball Federation president Pierre Kakhia at a news conference in Jal al-Dib Thursday.
The former New Zealand coach will gather his first squad together at the start of June in preparation for the Basketball World Championships.
“I’m excited,” Kakhia said. “He started in the American university system, coached New Zealand and has coached in Europe,” he added.
Although Baldwin hasn’t even seen his players perform yet, he is confident of what he can achieve with Lebanon.
“We have the potential to get to the second round, once we are there, then who knows. In a single game anything can happen so we will take it one game at a time and go as far as possible,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin also applauded the Lebanese Basketball Federation’s decision to give him full control of the team as well as finishing the domestic season early to aid preparation.
“Thanks to the terms offered to me, I can take full responsibility for team affairs, and being able to work with my players from early June will mean no one will go into the tournament with as much preparation time as us,” said Baldwin.
Lebanon is due to play New Zealand in the group stage of the Championships, stirring mixed emotions in the American.
“It will be an emotional experience to play against New Zealand,” Baldwin told The Daily Star. “I am a citizen there and it was my home for over 20 years,” he said.
“I will have to process the whole scenario in my head in the weeks leading up to the game,” said Baldwin.
But Baldwin did stress that his emotional attachment to his former homeland would not affect him come the game.
“It is a game I expect to win,” Baldwin told The Daily Star. “I always expect my team to win. Whether I am playing my best friend, my family or my worst enemy, I always expect to win.”
The 2010 World Championships will be his third in a row after leading New Zealand in 2002 and 2006, achieving a semi-finals place against the odds eight years ago, as well as coaching the ‘Tall Blacks’ in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
In Athens, Baldwin pulled off another shock result by beating World Champions Serbia and Montenegro.
Baldwin, 51, coached at Auburn Montgomery in NCAA Division II and then Central Florida in Division 1 before moving to the Otago Nuggets in New Zealand 22 years ago.
He had a long spell in charge of Auckland but Baldwin is best known for turning New Zealand’s national team into a force. He left his position as New Zealand head coach in 2006 and he has since worked around Europe and Turkey.
In addition to facing New Zealand in Group D in Turkey, Lebanon will face Spain, France, Lithuania and Canada.