Blatche back in fighting form
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – A glimpse of an Andray Blatche looking like the Blatche of the 2014 Seville World Cup and not the Blatche of the 2015 Changsha FIBA Asia has instantly lifted the morale and spirit of Gilas Pilipinas.

Everyone raved at the look of Blatche as he showed up at the Kerry’s Gym inside the Shangri-La Hotel at The Fort for his first workout with the Gilas training pool for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament set July 5-10 at MOA Arena.

The Filipino naturalized player arrived late last night from Atlanta via Los Angeles and Seoul.

Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin himself liked what he saw.

“He looks good,” said Baldwin in a brief chat with sportswriters during the unveiling of Nike apparel Gilas players will wear in the OQT.

Needless to say, the most important was the arrival of Blatche, completing the pool of players that will work together to give the country the best shot at possibly making the grade for the Rio Olympics in August.

The Manila OQT is the last door that Gilas Pilipinas can take to make the Rio Games. 

“I’m happy to welcome Dray back to the team. It’s time to work as a team and find the greatness within this bunch,” said Baldwin.

In 2014, Blatche was a dominant figure averaging 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds in the World Cup in Seville. However, Blatche, with extra poundage, was a shell of his old self in the 2015 Asian meet.

Except for Marcio Lassiter, everyone was present in the Gilas uniform unveiling rites and the subsequent closed-door practice session in the same venue.

Having just arrived in the country, Blatche was to join the pool only in the shoot-around session, same with Jeff Chan who’s still recovering from a groin injury.

June Mar Fajardo, nursing a sore knee, showed up only to observe from the sideline.

Training is expected to intensify in the next few days, about a month before the start of the tourney featuring Gilas Pilipinas, New Zealand, France, Canada, Turkey and Senegal. Only the winner will qualify for the Rio Games.

LA Lakers’ Fil-Am guard Jordan Clarkson was a special guest in the Nike/Gilas affair, expressing support to the national team.

Clarkson had expressed intention to play for Gilas but SBP had conceded getting the NBA player to play for the national team is a ticklish matter.

“Just being here to support, I want to be with the team,” said Clarkson. “I’m still on the outside looking in. I want to be there on the court to compete with them, but I have a lot of trust and confidence in them that they can get it done.”

Clarkson made special mention of Gilas guard Terrence Romeo whom he saw in action in the Jones Cup in Taipei last year.

“He can score and he has good handles. I think he’s one of the leaders of the team,” said Clarkson.

His message to the whole team? “Let’s win. Let’s get it done. Fight hard,” he said.

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