How Blatche joined Gilas
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 1, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – Not too many recall that Andray Blatche was a replacement for JaVale McGee as Gilas’ naturalized import. McGee visited Manila twice in 2011 and agreed to join the Philippine national team. Then, he went down with an injury and Gilas coach Chot Reyes called Chao Espaldon of East West Private to recommend a replacement. East West Private is a US wealth management outfit that represents several high-profile athletes. Espaldon is former PBA player Nonoy Chuatico’s sister and lives in Atlanta.

 It was McGee’s boyhood pal and personal trainer Rory Jones who suggested Blatche to take over. Jones knew Blatche from when he played with McGee and the Washington Wizards. Espaldon coordinated the replacement with Jones and McGee’s agent B. J. Armstrong.

 “I spoke with Chot and we had two candidates,” said Espaldon. “Dray was picked and played for Gilas starting the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. To this day, JaVale remains open to becoming a naturalized player but we’re now looking ahead. Right now, the SBP is focused on the 2019 World Cup so there is still no direction if we’ll recruit another naturalized player for 2023. By then, Kai Sotto and A. J. Edu will be ready for the senior national team.”

 Jones and Blatche’s buddy Bryan Extra are here to support the nine-year NBA veteran in the FIBA World Cup, his second stint in the tournament. Jones tore his left Achilles tendon three months ago and moves around in a four-wheel scooter with hand brakes and a seat. While doing therapy for the tear, his Achilles tendon ruptured once more so he’ll undergo a second surgery after the World Cup. Jones took his collapsible scooter on the plane for the trip to China. He called it his “buggy” and said “it sure beats walking around in crutches.”

 On Blatche’s condition, Jones said he’s battle-ready. “He’s lost 20 to 25 pounds from when he arrived in Manila over a month ago. He means business and I’m excited to see how Dray will perform. He’s Mr. Triple Double. What makes this World Cup even more interesting is at least four NBA teams are sending scouts to look over the talent. I hear the Denver Nuggets, L. A. Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings scouts will be at the venue.” Add a fifth team, the Philadelphia 76ers because their assistant coach John Bryant is with Angola.

Espaldon said before flying out to Manila, Blatche send a text message promising to deliver. “Dray told me it’ll be a dogfight in the World Cup and he’s giving his best,” she said. 

Blatche said he’s been to Foshan before while playing in the Chinese league but it’s his first time to perform at the 14,700-seat GBA International Sports and Cultural Center. With NBA scouts in the stands, a dominant showing by Blatche could lead to a return to the league where he played seven seasons with the Wizards and two with the Brooklyn Nets. 

McGee, 31, has played 11 years in the NBA and was on two Golden State championship teams. He now suits up for the Lakers. Blatche, 33, never went to college and made the jump from high school to the NBA as Washington’s second round pick in the 2005 draft. 

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