By Kabayan Jerome Lagunzad
LEAVING nothing to chance this time, Team Pilipinas has recalled naturalized player Andray Blatche for its training pool ahead of the decisive FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifying window in February.
No less than Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio confirmed that the 6-foot-11 Blatche will be back in harness after the former NBA veteran was left out in the fifth window in December when the Nationals dropped a pair of crucial matches against familiar tormentor Iran and Kazakhstan at home.
“Yes he will. We are finalizing matter with him,” said Panlilio in a message to spin.ph, confirming Blatche’s earlier statements about his much-awaited return to the national team.
“It’s confirmed! I’ll be back to play for the PHILIPPINES in February! Can’t wait to win these two games for the best fans in the world!” said Blatche, through the social media account of Theia Sports, on Thursday.
The return of Blatche, who bannered the Nationals in the 2014 World Cup in Spain, could make him a shoo-in for the naturalized player position, which was alternately filled up by NorthPort top gun Stanley Pringle and San Miguel center Christian Standhardinger in the fifth window.
Blatche, the Philippines’ naturalized player since the 2014, served a three-game suspension for his role in an infamous brawl with Australia last July. He would’ve been eligible for a call-up for the Iran game but national team coach Yeng Guiao took another route.
This time, Blatche could finally regain the full trust and confidence of Guiao and the SBP brass as he tries to help Team Pilipinas get the job done in a make-or-break situation on the road.
Currently running at fourth spot in Group F with an even 5-5 card, a full-game behind resurgent Japan, Team Pilipinas will try to re-assert its mastery over host Qatar on February 21, 2019, before it travels to Almaty to take on Kazakhstan on February 24, 2019.
The top three teams in Groups E and F, along with the best fourth placer, will advanced to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.