Blatche not fazed by Italy
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 31, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – Gilas naturalized player Andray Blatche isn’t intimidated by the presence of three NBA veterans in Italy’s lineup and expressed confidence that the Philippines will take care of business in its FIBA World Cup opener here tonight.

“I’ve played against (Danilo) Gallinari in the NBA but never with the national team,” said Blatche. “We know their game. I’m not sure if they know ours. We’ll be ready. I like what our rookies C. J. (Perez) and Robert (Bolick) bring to the table. I’ve got a good feeling about the game.”

Italy’s NBA players are 6-10 Gallinari, 6-5 Marco Belinelli and 6-8 Gigi Datome. Another Italian 6-7 Alessandro Gentile, 26, was Minnesota’s second round pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Gallinari, 31, was New York’s first round draft pick in 2008 and was recently traded to Oklahoma City. Belinelli, 33, was Golden State’s first round draft pick in 2007, won an NBA title with San Antonio in 2014 and took the NBA 3-point shootout crown in 2014. Datome, 31, played two NBA seasons with Detroit and Boston and now stars in the Turkish league. Italians with US NCAA credentials are naturalized player 6-8 Jeff Brooks of Penn State, 6-4 Amadeo Della Valle of Ohio State and 6-6 Daniel Hackett of the University of Southern California.

Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao said Italy may not have scouted the Philippines too seriously. The element of surprise brought the Philippines close to an upset over Croatia to start the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain with Gilas losing a heartbreaker, 81-78, in overtime. Blatche compiled 28 points and 12 rebounds in the contest. Returning with Blatche from the 2014 squad are Gabe Norwood, Paul Lee, Japeth Aguilar and JuneMar Fajardo.

“There’s not too much on YouTube about our team,” said Guiao. “We played two closed-door games in Spain and only one of our two games in the Malaga tournament is accessible in the internet. Then, we had two closed-door friendlies with Adelaide although I was informed someone from Bacoor videoed our second game and put it out on Facebook which shouldn’t have been allowed. Maybe, Italy will take us lightly.”

Italy and the Philippines go back a long way in basketball. When the sport was introduced in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Philippines battled Italy and won, 32-14, in a low-scoring contest. Among the Filipinos on the fifth place squad were Ambrosio Padilla, Jacinto Ciria Cruz and Charlie Borck. In the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Italy trounced the Philippines, 91-66, coming from behind a 39-34 halftime deficit. Robert Jaworski was on the national team. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, Italy crushed the Philippines, 101-81 as Dino Meneghin scored 23 points and Jun Papa 19 for the losing side.

At the 1978 FIBA World Cup in Manila, Italy bounced the Philippines, 112-75, and in a pre-tournament friendly, Italy also won, 114-96. In the 1980 World Junior Championships, Italy defeated the Philippines, 88-71.

Then, in the 1985 FIBA World Clubs Championships in Gerona, Spain, San Miguel Beer beat Italy’s Banco di Roma, 98-79 with Samboy Lim firing 30 points. Banco di Roma’s imports were NBA veterans Leo Rautins and Leroy Combs. In the Jones Cup in Taipei that year, the Philippines blasted Italy, 96-75, as Allan Caidic hit 28 and Hector Calma 19 to neutralize the Italian imports Stan Mayhew and Jim Grady. In 2002, the Philippines played Italy in Milan and lost, 99-56.

Guiao said he would’ve wanted Blatche to be 15 pounds lighter. But he has no complaints as Blatche is in much better condition now than when he arrived in Manila over a month back. “We would’ve liked other things to happen,” said Guiao. “We could’ve used more shooters like Marcio (Lassiter) and Matthew (Wright) who’re both injured. If the PBA Finals ended three weeks earlier, we could’ve integrated June Mar (Fajardo), Troy (Rosario) and R. R. (Pogoy) sooner. When we came back from Spain, it was like we started all over again with June Mar, Troy and R. R. coming in with only three days’ rest and one week of practice. But those are things that happened not under our control. We’ll do our best with what we’ve got.”         

ANDRAY BLATCHE
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