MANILA, Philippines – This time around, Gilas Pilipinas will not have to wait until the 11th hour for naturalized center Andray Blatche.
Blatche arrived earlier than expected on Friday, after he was released by his mother team, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes had thought that Blatche won’t arrive until Monday; instead, the 6-foot-11 big man already put in some work on Friday evening at the Meralco Gym.
He will join his Gilas teammates in training on Monday morning, but not before watching a couple of PBA games at the Araneta Coliseum on Sunday night.
Blatche watched as Kiefer Ravena led NLEX past Calvin Abueva and Alaska, then saw how Japeth Aguilar helped Ginebra barrel past Jayson Castro and the rest of TNT KaTropa in the PBA Philippine Cup.
“It’s good to watch Calvin, Asi (Taulava), Kiefer come by and play again,” said Blatche.
More than anything, however, Blatche cannot wait to work with his teammates in the national team again. The big man’s performance during the first window of FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers last year left a lot to be desired, but he appeared to be in much better shape this time around.
“Super excited. I can’t wait for tomorrow,” said Blatche. “I’m going to have dinner with Coach Chot tonight, and then after that, gonna get me a good rest for tomorrow’s practice.”
Blatche averaged 9.5 points and 13 rebounds per game in Gilas’ games against Japan and Chinese Taipei late last year – respectable numbers, but far from his usual output. Especially concerning was his poor shooting as he shot just 30% from the field in two games.
This time around, however, Blatche is hopeful that he can contribute more for the Philippines. He has more time not just to build chemistry with his teammates, but also to get used to the ball that will be used in the FIBA competition.
“I’m trying to get used to shooting with that ball again,” said Blatche. “That’s pretty much it, really.”
The Philippines will need Blatche to be at his best, as they are going up against a powerful Australia team on February 22. Like Gilas, Australia won both of its games in the first window. However, they were far more dominant as the Australians won their games with an average margin of 31 points.
Blatche knows that beating Australia is a tall task, but he is optimistic that they can get it done.
“We got to work hard as a team, use our strengths, our quickness, our outside shooting ability, and our toughness,” said Blatche. “I feel like we have a very good chance.”
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