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Blatche: ‘China is a strong team and so are we’

MANILA, Philippines – Despite several hitches in the formation of the national men’s basketball pool, naturalized big man Andray Blatche remains confident of the team’s strength. 

Having played in the Chinese pro league, the former NBA player witnessed firsthand China’s basketball capacity and their style of play. And his familiarity and knowledge of the opponent will certainly come in handy for Gilas Pilipinas.

“I know a lot of the players over there but I still think that we got the right players to win it,” said Blatche, who played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the past season of the Chinese Basketball Association. (READ: Blatche tearing it up in China)

“As long as we put the work in, it’s going to be up to us. China is a strong team and so are we.”

China, host of this year’s FIBA Asia Championship from September 23 to October 3, is one of if not the Philippines’ biggest competition at this year’s tournament. A decorated nation in the sport, China is famous for being one of the countries that’s difficult to beat on home soil. 

China, 15-time FIBA Asia gold medalist, is heavily touted to win the gold and the 2016 Summer Olympics berth this year, even with defending champion Iran in the fray. 

The perennial Asian champions struggled during the 2013 continental championship and the 2014 Asian games, finishing at 5th place in both tilts. But they have been undergoing a rebuilding phase in a bid to reclaim glory before their home crowd by October. 

Gilas is currently practicing with a 15-man pool that is a mix of national team and pro league veterans as well as young stalwarts. (READ: List of PBA players request for Gilas pool revealed)

There is much cause of concern for the availability of key players such as June Mar Fajardo (injured feet), Marc Pingris (scheduled trip) and LA Tenorio (health reasons). One more player had an asterisk on his name Monday night when Kelly Williams hurt his knee during practice.

Despite the looming threat, and amid dark clouds hovering over the Gilas Pilipinas pool these days, Blatche is not counting out his team just yet.

“I just feel like it’s going to be a process,” he said. “We’re going to keep on practicing and competing.” 

Blatche is expected to carry the nationals as it vies for the gold after fishing the silver at the 2013 event held in Manila. 

He will be relied upon even more with the prospect of two-time PBA MVP and Gilas veteran Fajardo missing out, as well as hustle guy Pingris.

“They got some good players,” Blatche said of China. “Our main focus is going to be about us and what we’re going to do.” 

“It feels great to be back in an organized sport, playing for something that means something,” he added. – Rappler.com