Ravena, 22, and Blatche, 32, are the only players in the Gilas roster with no PBA experience. Ravena still plays for Ateneo in the UAAP while Blatche is a nine-year NBA veteran now in his fifth season in the Chinese Basketball Association.
Joey Mendoza/File
Thirdy Ravena makes Gilas Pilipinas debut
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Thirdy Ravena never expected to be in the Gilas 12-man lineup that coach Yeng Guiao named for the game against Qatar at the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers in Doha last Thursday. He was called up to practice with Gilas last Jan. 24 and in Gilas’ only tune-up against Meralco the day before leaving for Doha a week ago, shot five points in a 100-82 win.

Ravena, 22, and Blatche, 32, are the only players in the Gilas roster with no PBA experience. Ravena still plays for Ateneo in the UAAP while Blatche is a nine-year NBA veteran now in his fifth season in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Guiao brought in 14 players to Doha. It would’ve been 15 but Christian Standhardinger stayed home since Blatche regained his spot as the team’s sole naturalized import. Raymond Almazan injured his ankle and couldn’t play against Qatar. R. R. Pogoy was also unavailable as he served out the last game of his FIBA suspension and will be reactivated for the contest against Kazakhstan in Astana tomorrow. With Almazan and Pogoy sidelined, Ravena was left to fill in the void.

Ravena’s mother Mozzy said she was moved to tears when news came out that her son made the final cast. “I was already ecstatic for Thirdy being in the pool then in the 14-man lineup,” she said.  “I teared up a little when I actually saw his picture on Twitter included in the final 12. This boy’s journey was a bit rough but he always works hard and never gives up. Proud mom here.”

Ravena’s father Bong, a PBA legend and TNT KaTropa head coach, said he’d heard that the two-time UAAP Finals MVP was in contention for a spot before the announcement. “Some of the coaches were already telling me that Thirdy had a good chance to make it to the lineup,” he said. “Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see the actual lineup with his name on the list.”

Ravena himself admitted that he was overwhelmed in his first Gilas practice. “I already knew that all of my teammates had represented the country at such a high level and my only thought was to make sure that I didn’t screw up during practice,” he said. “My experience with Ateneo in the Jones Cup last year taught me a lot about the international game. Pressure-wise, I don’t think we should think about it (sweeping the two games in the last window). There will always be pressure to win, no matter how big or small the game is.”

Ravena said the key is keeping a sharp focus on what must be done to win. “I think the biggest pressure is just a matter of being able to stick to the game plan the coaches have devised in order to win the game,” he said.

Ravena’s older brother Kiefer, who played four games for Gilas in the first two qualifying windows, said he couldn’t be happier. “I’m very happy for Thirdy, especially with the things he’s gone through,” he said. “A lot of experiences on and off the court helped him to grow and become the player he is today.”

Kiefer’s advice to his kid brother is to let the game come to him. “It’s a different game (in FIBA),” said Kiefer. “You can’t just overpower everybody. You’ll encounter bigger, stronger players. You have to be mature in playing the game because you’ll be playing with the best. I’m pretty sure Thirdy will learn a lot from coach Yeng. He just needs to stick to his role, enjoy and cherish the experience.”

In his baptism of fire, Ravena was scoreless in four attempts from the field in 12:48 minutes as Gilas crushed Qatar, 84-46. He had an assist, two fouls and a turnover playing the three-position. It was an uneventful debut but Ravena clearly showed his potential. He checked in with 2:25 left in the first period with the Philippines on top, 13-11, subbing for Gabe Norwood and stayed until replaced by Marcio Lassiter with 5:35 remaining in the second quarter with Gilas ahead, 23-17. Ravena went back to play in the third stanza and twice in the fourth. He was tagged with a questionable unsportsmanlike foul on Nasser Al-Rayes with 53 seconds to go. Guiao protested the call and took a technical for it. With 28.3 ticks left, Guiao was called for another technical, this time to express his disgust over the tolerant attitude towards the Qataris’ roughhousing defense. Guiao was then ejected for collecting two technicals.

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