Naturalized center Andray Blatche is back in the 14-man preliminary lineup of the Philippine National Team in preparation for its upcoming matches in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
After missing the last two windows of the Asian Qualifiers, Blatche is expected to return to the Philippines’ final lineup for its final two games, both away matches against Qatar and Kazakhstan that will take place in about a month’s time.
Head tactician Joseller ‘Yeng’ Guiao had previously opted for guard Stanley Pringle and big man Christian Standhardinger, who alternated in the naturalized player spot in both the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and during the previous FIBA matches, but while both players are of Filipino descent, they do not qualify as locals under FIBA eligibility rules as neither one had secured a Philippine passport prior to the age of 16.
As in the past, there are lingering concerns from followers of the national team with regards to Blatche’s fitness and conditioning level as the team enters its most important stretch: the Philippines will essentially be playing two must-win games if it is to stay alive in the hunt for a World Cup berth.
To estimate just what Blatche brings back to the table for the Philippines, let us take a look at the numbers he is putting up this season in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), where he currently plays for the Tianjin Gold Lions. Currently, the big man is averaging 17.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game in eight appearances for the team so far.
The former Washington Wizard also played his best outing of the season just two days ago, where he tallied 24 points, 18 boards, and two blocked shots, while shooting 10-for-17 from the field in 29 minutes of action in a loss against the Shenzhen Leopards.
Tianjin, as opposed to the powerhouse Xinjiang Flying Tigers where he spent the previous four seasons and won one championship with, are close to the bottom of the 20-team league with a 9-20 card.
The Northeastern Chinese squad has three scheduled matches between mid-to-late February, thus, Blatche is expected to take a leave from the Flying Tigers as he is set to arrive in the Philippines early next month to begin training with the national team.
Blatche is set to rejoin the pool that includes holdovers like June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Jason Castro, Paul Lee, Gabe Norwood, Troy Rosario, Marcio Lassiter, Scottie Thompson, RR Pogoy, JP Erram, Raymond Almazan, and Mark Barroca. Standhardinger has also been included in the pool, but only one of them can play at a time, pending the final decision of Guiao.
The Philippines hopes to keep their World Cup dreams alive as they are set to face off against Qatar on February 21, and Kazakhstan on the 24th.
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