Gilas Pilipinas heaved a huge sigh of relief as naturalized player Andray Blatche finally showed up in two practices on Sunday after arriving in Manila late Saturday night, barely five days before the team flies to Tokyo to take on Japan on Nov. 24 in Gilas’ opening game in the 2019 Fiba World Cup qualifiers.
The 6’11” former NBA stalwart looked fit and sharp and raring to lead Gilas to victory over Japan, even if the latter enjoys a homecourt advantage, and then over Chinese-Taipei in Manila three days later.
Blatche said he’s in great physical shape as a result of his playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association. “I feel great, I’m in good shape and this was because I was playing overseas in China,” he told reporters
Blatche attended Gilas’ morning practice at the Meralco gym and also the evening training session at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Blatche said he is optimistic that Gilas would win its first two qualifiers against Japan on Friday and against Chinese-Taipei at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Nov. 27.
“I’m just looking forward to winning, wherever we are, our main focus is winning,” Blatche said. “So we’ll go to Japan, get a win, come back here and get a win. That’s the goal.”
Even though he missed practices with Gilas due to his commitment to his team in China, Blatche said getting re-accustomed to the system of coach Chot Reyes is no problem for him. “I mean, we had a practice earlier, so it was pretty much comfortable with the offense, the defense, and the players and the coaching staff so it’s a quick adjustment for me,” the former Brooklyn Net said.
Blatche said the latest edition of Gilas has a lot of offensive firepower, even with top gunner Terrence Romeo sidelined by injury and unlikely to make it to Tokyo. He specifically mentioned Jayson Castro and Gabe Norwood as the players that would join him in leading Gilas to victory.
“With Jayson (Castro) — a quick guard and a veteran guard that’s going to lead us, having Gabe (Norwood) back here with us, and some of the younger guys, I think we have a great chance,” Blatche told News5’s Lyn Olavario.
He also commented on the possible emergence of a new Gilas naturalized player in the person of 7’1” Isaiah Austin, another former NBA star player. Blatche said he saw Austin in action during Gilas’ campaign in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in China.
“He’s a young kid with a lot of potential and upside. I see he can protect the rim — he’s very long and athletic,” he said of Austin. “I feel like once he understands the game he’d be a great player.”
Asked about the possibility that Austin could take his place in Gilas, Blatche said that possibility does not concern him at the moment.
“Until it’s over for me, until they find somebody else and everybody says thank you for everything you did. I don’t have nothing on my mind that says, ‘Okay this year I’m done.’ I wanna keep playing as long as I can,” Blatche said. “It’s always an honor to come out and represent the country.”
Blatche vowed to exert his best effort for Gilas. “Numbers were never really my game, so it’s all about winning. If there’s something needed to do on defense, then I’m going to do it on defense. If I need to step up on offense, I’ll step up on offense. (But) the main thing for me is to win,” he said.