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Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Naturalized Filipino and Philippine men’s national team big man Andray Blatche missed a huge chance to get used to playing with his new Gilas teammates and get familiar with the system implemented by head coach Tab Baldwin when he wasn’t able to participate in the 37th William Jones Cup.
Blatche, 29, missed the tournament as he returned to the United States to attend his uncle’s funeral and care for his ailing mother.
Even without the 6-foot-11 former NBA player, the national squad still performed well enough to bag the silver medal, but both their losses came against South Korea and Iran - two teams standing in their way of a gold medal in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
If Gilas wants to take home the gold, and book a ticket to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, they will need Blatche present for a better shot at taking down their continental rivals.
“These next 10-12 days before we head over to Changsha are probably as critical as anytime we’ve had so far and it may be the difference now with Andray back with us, fully working in our system,” said Baldwin, whose team will participate in the 2015 MVP Cup this weekend in preparation for the FIBA tourney.
Blatche wasn’t able to watch much of Gilas’ 6-2 showing in the Jones Cup, but did hear about their performances and says that, as a team, they continue to improve.
“I just heard a lot of great things, and I see them on the court,” he told Rappler after Gilas’ practice on Wednesday, September 9. “We’re improving. Our rhythm is getting there. We’re starting to know each other, so it’s like a ladder. We’re climbing the ladder. We’re getting better.”
Blatche was huge for Gilas during their 1-4 showing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup where he averaged 21.2 points and 13.8 boards a contest. During the press conference for the MVP Cup on Thursday, September 10, Baldwin said he’s confident Blatche will still be a key player for Gilas, but probably not the same player he was last year.
“Andray’s in the middle of a process right now. He came in, he’s had disruptions. We’ve got to work with him to get him as sharp as we can,” said the 57-year-old Baldwin. “But because of the disruptions, I don’t expect to see the same Andray we saw in 2014.”
“But I think we’re going to get him very close, and we need to get him very close, so we’ve agreed to which we can push him right now,” added Baldwin.
“We gotta try and find that balance between helping him improve his fitness and strength and conditioning and sharpness as a player, but not exposing him to getting so fatigued that he gets injured in the process.”
For his part, Blatche says he realizes Gilas’ system has worked well so far, and he’s not trying to alter that. He’s also optimistic about his in-game shape.
“I’m not really trying to come in here and change up what they’re doing; I’m just trying to fit into what they’re doing, and just be aggressive on offense,” said the former Washington Wizard and Brooklyn Net. “As far as game shape, I’m getting there.”
Blatche’s presence should make it more difficult on the defensive end for someone like Hamed Haddadi, who registered 22 points, 14 boards, and 2 blocks in Iran’s 74-65 Jones Cup win against the Philippines.
“I’m not worried about them; I’m more concerned about us,” Blatche told Rappler about the competition Gilas will face in the FIBA Asia, which starts on September 23.
“As we long as we go out there prepared and ready, we should win.”
But for now, Gilas has to deal with the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters, Wellington Saints, and Chinese Taipei in the MVP Cup.
Blatche is already excited to return to action.
“I’m looking forward to playing again.” – Rappler.com