Baldwin pleased to have fit, committed Blatche back

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine men’s national basketball team has 5 weeks to prepare for the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers in Manila, and having naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche back for the stretch run should better prepare Gilas as it vies for a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Blatche arrived in Manila on Friday evening, May 27, and joined the national team’s practices on the next two days right away.

Looking leaner and in better shape compared to last year, Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin complimented his former NBA big man for his commitment and conditioning.

“He looks good. It’s a different Andray than last year,” said Baldwin at the Meralco Gym on Sunday. “The great thing about Andray is his attitude. He really does love this group of guys, he loves this environment.”

It’s no secret the 29-year-old Blatche is a major weapon for Gilas Pilipinas. In the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, the 6-foot-11 center averaged 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds a game, then followed it up with averages of 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a game in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.

“Two years ago, we got a great player. Last year, we got a guy out of shape, but still gave everything he had. This year, he’s in good shape,” according to Baldwin.

Talking to the media after practice on Sunday, Blatche emphasized that he prefers not to talk about the events of last year and wants to concentrate on what’s coming ahead.

“To be honest with you, I’m not here to talk about last year, I’m here to talk about this year and what’s our focus on moving forward,” he said.

“It’s good to have some of the guys back that I played with, like Japeth (Aguilar) [and] June Mar (Fajardo). LA (Tenorio) is back. It’s good to see so many [of the] guys again that was out there competing in the World Cup.”

Before coming to Manila, Blatche says he spent time with his family, worked out often, and shot a lot of jumpers to stay in rhythm.

“He’s not in peak condition, but we got 5 weeks to get him there,” said the 58-year-old Baldwin. “He’s in good shape. He’s obviously done the work back home, and so he’s come in, and so there’s no waiting around now.

“We’re moving forward and he looks good, his commitment is where it’s always at - very good - and he’s just going to get better and we’re going to get better,” added the head coach, who says he’s not sure what Blatche’s exact weight is now but noted that it’s “not relevant.”

Having Blatche at his best is critical for Gilas considering the talented countries it has to face at the Qualifiers: New Zealand and France, then possibly Senegal, Turkey or Canada.

“I was just talking to Tab about it, about the guys that’s going to come,” said Blatche, who has experience against some of the competition.

“Some guys I played against in the NBA, so I know most of their abilities and I know the things they like to do, so it’s going to be up to us to fight as a team, and prepare for them.” –