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Blatche set to arrive tonight

Gilas Pilipinas naturalized player Andray Blatche will arrive tonight as he rejoins the preparation of the national team training pool that will see action in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) on July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City.

Blatche was supposed to arrive May 15, but was allowed by national team management extended time to stay in his Atlanta home to be with his mother, who is stricken with cancer and had surgery recently.

The 6-foot-11 forward, who recently played in China, will don the Gilas uniform again in the OQT where he is expected to play big as the national team eyes a spot in the Rio Olympics this August.

A former NBA standout following stints with the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets, Blatche made his debut with Gilas during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Blatche also played for the national team in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, China.

In the two tournaments he played with Gilas, the Filipinos somehow saw two different kinds of Blatche – one that had a superb performance in Spain and one that was criticized for his shape as he showed up overweight when practice started August prior to the September tournament.

The 29-year-old Blatche managed to help the national team make the finals, although they lost to home team China in the gold medal game – and an outright berth in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Butch Antonio, Gilas team manager and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) director for international affairs, said that handlers of Blatche gave an assurance that the New York native is in tip-top shape.

“He’s in shape, yun ang sabi sa amin ng handlers nya,” said Antonio in a recent interview. “Of course, we’ll see that when he arrives. Ang question naman is if he’s in shape like when he played in the FIBA World Cup.”

Blatche finished his first season of a three-year contract with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, who signed him a staggering $7.5 million deal. Though he has not played in the NBA in the last two years, a few teams are reportedly interested in obtaining his services next season.