MANILA, Philippines – If Andray Blatche is in it for the long haul as a naturalized player, so is Gilas Pilipinas.
Blatche made a rousing return to the national team as he steered the Philippines to a 38-point thrashing of Qatar in Doha in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers on Thursday, February 21 (Friday, February 22, Philippine time).
Turning in a near triple-double performance, the former NBA player sure left an impression on Philippine head coach Yeng Guiao.
“We want to keep him around, but that’s still his decision,” Guiao said during the post-game presser. (READ: Blatche: ‘No bigger blessing’ than playing for Gilas)
Blatche was among the 10 Gilas players who were suspended by FIBA for their role in the brawl-marred Philippines-Australia match in July.
Finishing his three-game suspension, the 6-foot-10 big man had a chance to suit up for the last game of the fifth window. However, he found himself left out of the national team pool.
During that two-window stretch, the Philippines won only one of its 4 games and dropped to 4th place in Group F.
But now asked to don the national colors again in the crucial sixth window, Blatche showed it was the right decision to bring him back as he torched Qatar with 17 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals.
“Andray here just created a lot of opportunities for us, offense and defense. He changed the whole team, the guys just felt good playing with him,” Guiao said. (READ: Even on world stage, Yeng Guiao couldn’t escape ejections)
“He draws a lot of attention of the defense, that creates the openings, that’s why we shot a lot of three-point shots and we got the good looks,” Guiao added, referring to the Philippines knocking down 15 three-pointers.
“That was something we did not have when he wasn’t playing. I guess his game just speaks for itself.”
Blatche and the Philippines still have one last game against Kazakhstan in Astana on Sunday, February 24, and a win will likely secure their World Cup seat. (SCENARIOS: How Gilas can qualify for FIBA World Cup) – Rappler.com