By JONAS TERRADO
Gilas Pilipinas heaved a sigh of relief yesterday after naturalized player Andray Blatche arrived from China in time for Friday’s match with Japan in the opener of the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
Team manager Butch Antonio posted an Instagram photo showing him, Blatche, personal trainer Rory Jones and friend Brian Extra in Manila after lengthy delays that left many to worry whether the former NBA player will be available for Japan clash and the Nov. 27 home duel with Taiwan.
Blatche then took part in Gilas’ two practices yesterday as he hopes to catch up with the team before they leave for Tokyo tomorrow for the opener.
The import of Chinese club Xinjiang Flying Tigers was supposed to be in the country last week for the three-day training camp in Tagaytay City but couldn’t secure a release because of the ongoing Chinese Basketball Association season.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes even hinted that his team was not ruling down the possibility of playing all-Filipino had Blatche failed to rejoin the national team.
Blatche later apologized for the delay and vowed to be back donning the Gilas jersey. He made good on that promise after Xinjiang played its last game before the qualifiers Friday.
The 6-foot-11 is expected to be a cinch in Reyes’ 12-man roster for the two games, though there’s still concerns hounding Gilas.
Terrence Romeo could miss both matches because of a knee contusion while Gilas remains far from peak form after three lackluster tuneups against Alab Pilipinas, Rain or Shine and NLEX.
All 16 players on the pool will fly to Tokyo, with Reyes set to submit his 12-man roster for the Japan match on Thursday.
Reyes has the option to submit a different 12-man lineup for the Taiwan encounter at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It will be the fifth tournament Blatche will see action for Gilas since his debut in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. He last saw action for the Philippines last May when the Nationals ruled the SEABA Championship at the Big Dome.