Blatche calls on Pinoys to support Gilas at Olympic qualifiers

MANILA, Philippines - Gilas Pilipinas center Andray Blatche was in the audience for the tail-end of the Adamson-University of the East match as well as the La Salle-Letran tussle in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup this past Sunday, June 5. Blatche rose from his seat along Commissioner’s Row to cheer a clutch triple by UE’s Edson Batiller and clapped his hands. After Batiller missed a desperation 3 to win the knockout match, he punched the air.

Blatche took part in the ceremonial toss before the match between the two squads and also met with fans and took time to talk to the college sports media. Adamson squeaked past UE, 84-82, while La Salle turned on the jets in the second half for a 78-70 win that saw them advance to the next round undefeated at 7-0. Letran was eliminated from the competition. 

“It’s easy to see where the Filipinos' passion for the game comes from,” noted the 6-foot-11 center from Syracuse, New York. “Filipinos may not have the height but they sure make up for it with their heart and hustle. And there is no denying their talent for basketball.” 

Of his Gilas teammates, Blatche named Calvin Abueva as the team’s firestarter. “He’s got bundles and reserves of energy. Where he stores them I have no idea." 

During the warm-ups for the La Salle-Letran match, Blatche and his party of 7 noted Green Archer rookie Ricci Rivero’s hops. “Hey, number 6,” called out Blatche, “show us what you’ve got.” 

Rivero obliged but muffed a windmill dunk. The attempt though was enough to impress the NBA veteran. “He’s got talent,” he declared.

Blatche is counting on that passion to inspire the Philippine National Team to victory during the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers next month here in Manila. “We didn’t have home court advantage in Changsha (at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships). I saw videos of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships in Manila and that was an incredible atmosphere. If we can get that kind of support that’s going to be a huge boost for us.”

The nationals play a friendly match versus Asian nemesis Iran on June 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City. With Blatche in harness, the Filipinos finally were able to beat Iran, 87-73, in the same FIBA tournament in Changsha. Iran is one of the Philippines' two biggest stumbling blocks to regaining Asian basketball supremacy with the other being China. 

“From what I know, Coach Tab (Baldwin, Gilas Pilipinas head coach) will name his 14-man lineup that will go to Europe for a training camp,” revealed Blatche. –