MANILA, Philippines – Naturalized Filipino big man Andray Blatche’s status to play for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, is in limbo since his team in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, reportedly does not want to release him.
According to a report by the Manila Bulletin, sources say that Blatche’s CBA team - with whom he signed a massive $7.5 million contract with this year - has rejected his request to play for the Philippine team during the Asian continental tournament to be held from September 23 to October 3.
The Philippines, to be mentored by new head coach Tab Baldwin, is expected to be one of the contenders for the tournament after finishing in second place during the tourney’s 2013 edition.
The 2015 FIBA Asia Championship is going to serve as the qualifiers for the 2016 Rio Olympics, with only one slot - to be given to the gold medalist - available.
Blatche, 28, suited up for Gilas in the 2014 FIBA World Cup where the team won only one game but was competitive against their talented group mates.
The 6-foot-11 former NBA player was impressive during the World Cup, averaging 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds a game. In the latest CBA season, he put up 31 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists a game.
In an article released by The Philippine Star on Monday, Baldwin said that Blatche was scheduled to arrive in Manila this weekend, per what he learned from the SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.)
In the report released by the Manila Bulletin, a source says the reason why Xinjiang is not releasing Blatche is because China - also a major player in FIBA Asia - does not want the Philippines “to have a strong line-up.”
The Chinese finished fifth overall in 2013 and with a 6-3 overall record, two years after winning gold.
If Blatche can’t suit up, it’s likely that the Philippines will call the number of their other naturalized big man: 35-year-old Marcus Douthit, who donned the country’s colors in the 2011 and 2013 FIBA Asia Championship tourneys.
Although Douthit put up good numbers while playing as an import for the Blackwater Elite this past PBA season - 21 points, 16 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.9 blocks a game - he has lost a step from years ago. The talent disparity between him and Blatche is also noteworthy.
The news of the former NBA player’s unavailability adds to the growing pains for Baldwin and the national team.
Last week, it was reported that reigning two-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo is doubtful for national duty due to plantar fasciitis injuries in both his feet which he has been playing through since the latest PBA Governors’ Cup.
Reports have also surfaced that some players from PBA teams might not be given the go signal by team owners to play for Gilas, which is being supported by SBP President Manny V. Pangilinan, who also owns 3 teams in the league.
Ginebra guard LA Tenorio, who played for Gilas in both the 2014 FIBA World Cup and Asian Games, has already taken a leave of absence due to non-stop playing in the past years.
Marc Pingris, who also played in both tournaments, is also questionable for Gilas because of a family-related trip to France.