Japan B. League

Baltazar open to long Japan stint, always ready for Gilas call-up

Naveen Ganglani
Baltazar open to long Japan stint, always ready for Gilas call-up

IMPROVEMENT. Justine Baltazar looks to explore more of his basketball skills with the Hiroshima Dragonflies.

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Justine Baltazar joins the Hiroshima Dragonflies as the latest Filipino player to pursue a career in the Japan B. League

MANILA, Philippines – Former local collegiate star Justine Baltazar expressed his desire to play basketball long-term in Japan for the Hiroshima Dragonflies but also made it clear that he is ready to aid Gilas Pilipinas if it ever needs his help.

The 25-year-old Pampanga native, who will become the latest Filipino talent to play in the B. League, will make his pro debut in late September. He’ll be tasked with improving a team that finished with a 29-28 record last season.

“I’ll expect they’ll help me to learn more and to explore more of my basketball skills,” the former La Salle Green Archer said during his introductory press conference on Monday, August 22.

“I’ll do my 100% every time I play,” he later added. “I’m always here to win. I always put my heart in every game I play.”

Hiroshima’s general manager, Shuji Okazaki, said that he first scouted Baltazar during the FIBA Asia Cup and was enamored by his “rebounding, defense, and shooting,” which are areas the Dragonflies need to improve on.

“I have high hopes for his contributions,” stated Okazaki, who also mentioned that he thinks Baltazar, the UAAP Season 84 MVP runner-up, has “room to grow.”

Baltazar is signed to a one-year contract, which is a staple for first-timers in the B. League under the Asian Import quota. Both him and Okazaki hope that the partnership will last more than that period, although future plans will only be discussed down the road.

“If the team will renew and give me another chance, I would love to stay and play with the Hiroshima Dragonflies,” said Baltazar, who won a UAAP title with La Salle as a rookie in 2016.

“Of course, I want him to play in Japan for a long time and I want him to like Japan,” added Okazaki. “However, I haven’t decided specifically how many years, because it is his first time playing in Japan. So, I think we should make the decision after [this season].”

Baltazar joins Kiefer Ravena, Thirdy Ravena, Kobe Paras, Dwight Ramos, and Greg Slaughter as Filipino talents in the B. League this upcoming season. 

At 6-foot-7, Baltazar is typically a power forward or center in the Philippines, but he might see more playing time as a wing in the international scene.

“I’ll just do my best to contribute more to the team,” he said. “I spoke with Kiefer Ravena and he told that players in Hiroshima, they’re really good.”

Baltazar honed his talents as a wing while previously training for Gilas under Tab Baldwin, displaying an expanded arsenal of skills which includes a long-range threat, some ball-handling, and penetration.

The versatile standout will be ready to work with Gilas anew if he gets another call-up.

“If they call and ask for my help, I will gladly participate with Gilas.” – Rappler.com

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