Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche says call anytime
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Naturalized player Andray Blatche is eligible to suit up for the Philippines when Gilas faces Iran in the second contest of the fifth window of the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers at the MOA Arena on Monday but even as he will have completed his three-game suspension by then, the nine-year NBA veteran was left out of the 20-man national pool.

Blatche, 32, played six games for Gilas in the first three windows of the qualifiers, averaging 11.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 2.2 blocked shots and 28.9 minutes. The Philippines went 4-2 with the 6-11 Blatche but in his sixth outing, he was suspended with nine teammates for an altercation against Australia at the Philippine Arena last July. 

In an emotional message sent to The Star yesterday, Blatche said he was hurt by his exclusion from the Gilas pool but vowed to be available “should my country need me in any capacity.” He turned down offers to return to China after his contract expired because “I wanted to be fully available for Gilas and not have to deal with my Chinese team deciding when I could leave to join practice.”

Blatche said he has kept himself in shape and would’ve been ready to go 100 percent against Iran. He called it a “shocker” when he learned from news reports that he wasn’t included in the pool because “I looked forward to rejoining the team for the Dec. 3 game (against Iran).”

Blatche said neither he nor his agent was advised of the exclusion before the news came out. “I think it was a very unprofessional way to handle someone like me who has invested so much in the Gilas program,” he said. “The way this was handled was not a good representation of Filipinos in general who are kind, hospitable and loyal. I love my Filipino friends and to me, they are the best in the world. I think Filipino basketball players are fantastic because they have mad skills and a passionate heart. I must admit I was very hurt by how carelessly I was discarded.”

Blatche said since his exclusion, he has done a lot

of soul-searching. “Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been wondering if my loyalty and passion to win for my country is reciprocated,” he said. “I’ve of course been keeping tabs of Gilas and I’ve watched how they lost three of four tune-up games recently and won one by default with the new team and coach. I’m sure the new coach is focused on winning the next two games. I wish I could be there to make sure we win. I’d like to think that I was instrumental, along with coach Chot (Reyes) and my teammates, in bringing the team to where it is now. I’m invested in my country winning and getting to the World Cup. Seeing these struggles has worried me. I really want to help my country rewrite history and win more games in the World Cup.”

Blatche said he never regretted making personal sacrifices for the country. “I’ve had to persevere and play through my mother’s battle with cancer during the time of the Asian championships,” he said. “I was asked to leave three days after my one and only child was born to come to Manila and join my team. I’ve done what was asked of me. Winning is what we’ve done since I was granted citizenship.”

Blatche said he will always be proud to be a Filipino. “I’m a proud, proud Filipino,” he said. “My Gilas team is my second family and the passionate and loyal fans are the best in the world. I think of the Philippines as my country and I’ve fought very hard to bring the country and the fans the basketball glory they deserve. I’ve been a Filipino player since 2014. I’ve made life-long relationships in the Philippines that extend beyond basketball. My message to my teammates and all the fans is simple – I love the Philippines and especially Filipino basketball fans and I’m proud to have a Philippine passport.”

As for his three-game suspension, Blatche said all he did was come to the defense of a fellow brother-in-arms. “I rushed to R. R. (Pogoy) to protect him when I thought the Australian player was going to hurt him more when he was down,” he said. “I took the punishment from FIBA despite the fact that I believe the SBP should have fought harder for our team and appealed.”   

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