by Waylon Galvez
With naturalized player Andray Blatche in game-shape, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio is confident that getting the important two wins for Gilas Pilipinas in the sixth and last leg of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers is very much doable.
Both the local basketball federation that Panlilio heads and the Gilas coaching staff led by mentor Yeng Guiao have agreed to tap Blatche for the two crucial games. Based on the assessment of the SBP chief, the national team has a solid chance to beat Qatar and Kazakhstan this month.
“I am personally pleased with what I saw and his preparation for his tour of duty is very encouraging,” said Panlilio in a statement.
“I’ve been monitoring his games in China and he is in good basketball shape. I am confident that with Andray on-board, the much-needed victories are achievable,” Panlilio added.
Blatche arrived Friday afternoon from China where he is currently playing for the Tianjin Golden Lions, averaging almost 18 points and 10 rebounds with 3.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game in the Chinese Basketball Association.
The 6-foot-10 center is practicing with the national team but will return to China on Monday to play two games with his mother team in Tianjin before joining Gilas in Qatar on February 16.
The national team plays Qatar in Doha on February 21 and Kazakhstan in Astana on February 24.
Panlilio visited Blatche at the Shangri La Plaza Hotel in Mandaluyong City where the former NBA player is billeted.
“It was a positive and lively conversation. We talked about the next two games and its implication,” said Panlilio. “We are aligned in our objective to ensure victories against Qatar in Doha and Kazakhstan in Astana.”
“We are determined to make it to the 2019 World Basketball in China. We owe it to the Filipinos who have been supporting Smart Gilas Pilipinas through thick and thin.”
“Our backs are against the wall and we need prayers from everyone to help us win games para sa bayan (for the country),” added Panlilio.
Gilas Pilipinas lost to Kazakhstan (92-88) and Iran (78-70) last December, which dropped the Philippines to fourth place with a 5-5 card in Group F behind Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4).
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