A top official of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas expressed confidence that they are very close to finalizing a new deal with naturalized center Andray Blatche to boost Gilas Pilipinas’ campaign in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament set from July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Pirma na lang ang kulang,” Butch Antonio, SBP’s deputy director for international affairs, said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the inaugural Intercollegiate 3×3 Invitationals press launch held at The Frazzled Cook in Scout Gandia, Quezon City.
“Like what I said earlier, we are hoping to finalize it within the week, or over in the next few days. We are in touch with the handlers of Andray. We have come to terms and hopefully we could seal the deal.”
Antonio, who also serves as Gilas Pilipinas manager, also expressed confidence that the 6-foot-11 Blatche will be “in better shape” when he returns to Manila to join the national team practice in mid-May, barely two months before the six-team, two-group qualifying event that offers a lone ticket for the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.
Blatche, 29, is coming off a productive stint with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association, averaging monstrous numbers of 28.3 points, 10. 6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.0 block while leading them to the semifinal round where they were swept by the Sichuan Blue Whales in a best-of-five affair.
“He’s putting up good numbers and we’re just hoping from here, he’s gotta be going through training also from the time he gets off his Chinese team all the way up to meeting us in May. I think he’ll be in better shape than last year,” said Antonio, referring to Blatche’s poor conditioning when he showed up with a slight beer belly ahead of the 2015 FIBA-Asia cage championships in Hunan, China.
Blatche, despite his bloated form, remained a force to be reckoned with but could only help the Nationals finish as bridesmaid to host Mainland China, which eventually secured the outright ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Antonio added Gilas Pilipinas officials, led by American-Kiwi coach Tab Baldwin, intends to have Blatche report for his national team duties by May 15 to help him get familiarize anew with the system that could be the winning formula to topple European giant France and New Zealand in the preliminary round.
“Right now they plan is to have him around May 15. But of course, things can change. But based on the plans of coach Tab, kasi siya naman ang naglalatag ng lahat ng programs ng training ng Gilas, it’s good to have him when all the players are ready too,” said Antonio, adding they are making the adjustments on schedule based on how the ongoing PBA Commissioners Cup will pan out.
“The PBA (Commissioners Cup) will end on a full-route on May 20 and we’re planning based on that. Hopefully by that time, we’ll have regular Gilas practices already,” he concluded. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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