Blatche locked in as Gilas' naturalized player for FIBA World Cup

MANILA, Philippines – There will be no other naturalized player for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2019 FIBA World Cup but Andray Blatche. 

Philippine team coach Yeng Guiao bared that Blatche will keep his spot in the upcoming quadrennial showpiece even if Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson will be available to play as a naturalized player. 

"Nakita kasi natin kailangan natin ng size. Si Andray kasi matagal na rin nating nakakasama sa Gilas (We know that we need big guys. And Andray has been with Gilas for quite some time now),"  Guiao said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at the Amelie Hotel in Malate on Tuesday, April 23. 

"Nakita ko rin 'yung matchups, mahihirapan tayo sa malalaki ng European teams, African teams, kapag wala si Andray. At saka Andray deserves to be there kasi siya ang nagdala sa atin sa World Cup," he added.

(We also saw the matchups, we will have problems against the big guys of European and African teams without Andray. And Andray deserves to be there because he brought us to the World Cup.) 

Away from the national team for a significant time, the former NBA player proved his worth by leading the Philippines to the World Cup with a couple of outstanding performances in the final window of the Asian Qualifiers. 

He delivered a near-triple-double performance in a 38-point rout of Qatar before playing like a man possessed with a 41-point double-double in an 18-point win over Kazakhstan that secured Gilas' World Cup berth. 

Guiao is keeping his fingers crossed that Clarkson would team up with Blatche as a local player. 

"I'm keeping my hopes high na makasama natin siya. Hindi naman sila pumasok sa playoffs so 'yung schedule, I think he will be free," the fiery mentor said of Clarkson, whose Cleveland Cavaliers did not reach the NBA postseason. 

(I'm keeping my hopes high that he can join us. They did not make the playoffs so I think he will be free for the World Cup.) 

"He also indicated himself na gusto niya maglaro. Noong kasama namin siya sa Indonesia, sinasabi niya na, 'Let's get to the World Cup. I want to play in the World Cup(He also indicated himself that he wants to play. When we were with him in Indonesia, he told us, "Let's get to the World Cup. I want to play in the World Cup),'" the coach added.

While Clarkson has expressed his desire to don the national colors again following his stint in the 2018 Asian Games, his FIBA eligibility to play as a local remains as the ultimate challenge the Philippines has to hurdle. 

But Guiao said the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is doing its part to have Clarkson suit up in the World Cup. 

"Our SBP leaders are silently working on it. Ayaw nila ng medyo (They don't want a) high profile so I think we just need to leave it to them. But I'm keeping my hopes high," he said.

The Philippines is bunched with Serbia, Italy, and Angola in Group D in the first round of the World Cup, which kicks off in China on August 31. – Rappler.com  

Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.

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