FIBA: Upbeat Blatche ready to lead Gilas in World Cup

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 22 2019 01:17 PM | Updated as of Aug 22 2019 03:13 PM

Andray Blatche of Gilas Pilipinas. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – With just a little over a week to go before they plunge into action in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, naturalized Filipino center Andray Blatche is in good spirits and looks ready to lead Gilas Pilipinas into battle.

The big man has been diligently working to get in shape for the World Cup. 

On Wednesday during the team's formal send-off, he said that he was "feeling pretty good."

"Feeling great," Blatche said. "I'm doing a lot of extra work with (Gilas trainer) Dex (Aseron) during mornings and practice at night. All for the preparation for the first game, and so we can go and give our best."

This will be Blatche's second World Cup with the Philippines, as he was also part of the squad that competed in Spain back in 2014. That was the first time that Blatche had worn the national team colors after being naturalized in June of that year.

This time around, Blatche is a veteran of international play and is looked upon as one of the leaders of the national team along with team captain Gabe Norwood. 

Both players are ready to anchor a squad that features several first-timers in the World Cup, including PBA rookies CJ Perez and Robert Bolick.

"Anything's possible," said Blatche of their chances. "Me, Gabe, some of the other guys know what to expect now in the fourth quarter, how each possession means a lot, how each rebound means a lot."

"This time around, we just got to have the same focus and definitely hit our shots," he added.

The first time that Blatche played with the Philippines in the World Cup, it was Jayson Castro who was leading the team on the court. 

But "The Blur" had opted not to play for Gilas this time around, putting tremendous responsibility on players like Kiefer Ravena, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, and Bolick.

Blatche has no doubt that their backcourt can live up to the standard that Castro has set.

"I have total faith in all of our guards," he declared. "They can, they're gonna have to step up, they're gonna have to hit some big shots, they gotta lead us."

Even with Blatche on the line-up, the Philippines remains a massive underdog in their group, which includes Italy, Serbia, and Angola. 

Coach Yeng Guiao has made no secret of how challenging their group is, especially as they are to play a Serbian team that is ranked fourth worldwide.

Italy is 13th, while Angola is the one team that is ranked below the Philippines at 39th. Gilas is currently at 31st in the world.

Blatche, however, is unfazed.

"I mean, I've been the underdog almost my whole life. So it's okay, it's great to shock people. You know, it's great for people to go, 'wow.' But you know, our main focus is getting two wins," he said. 

"We got one win the last World Cup. This time our main focus is to get two wins and advance."

The Philippines plays its first game on August 31 against Italy before taking on Serbia on September 2. 

They wrap up their group round schedule against Angola on September 4.

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