By Jerome Lagunzad
An apologetic Andray Blatche expressed his continued support to his Gilas Pilipinas teammates who are gearing up for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon next month.
But the 6-foot-11 center, still the country’s best naturalized player option, didn’t go into details why he won’t don the country’s tri-colors in the Aug. 8 to 20 event pitting the finest national teams from Asia and Ocenia regions.
“I will always be very thankful for the opportunity the love and the support I have received from my Filipino family,” Blatche, 30, posted on his Instagram account (@draylive) yesterday using a photo of him carrying a big Philippine flag taken during the SEABA Championships ruled by Gilas Pilipinas last May.
“But it’s a lot of reason why I can’t join and don’t expect ppl (people) to understand but I do wish my brothers the best of luck.”
It’s the second time in the last three years that the former Washington Wizard and Brooklyn Net will miss a big international event since he started suiting up as a naturalized player for the Philippines in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Blatche, was forced to skip the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea after the Olympic Council of Asia refused to give him the green light citing his failure to meet the three-year residency requirement among naturalized players.
Blatche, who’s currently tied up to reigning Chinese Basketball Association titlist Xinjiang Flying Tigers, reinforced the Nationals during their dominant gold-medal run in the recent SEABA tourney and seemed to do the same for the Lebanon joust.
But Blatche’s handlers and the Gilas team management failed to come into terms, leaving national team coach Chot Reyes with no recourse but to tap Filipino-German big man Christian Standhardinger as Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized player in its 12 man-strong unit.
However, reports are rife that Blatche is open about representing the Philippines in future international tourneys, like the “home and away” event which serves as the Asian qualifying tourney for the 2019 FIBA World Cup set to be host by Mainland China.
Meanwhile, Reyes remains optimistic that the Nationals, even without Blatche, have enough tools to hold their ground against reigning Asian champion China, powerhouse Iran, formidable New Zealand and world superpower Australia.
Gilas is pooled in Group B with China, Iraq and Qatar. The national team opens its title campaign against China on Aug. 9, before taking on Iraq on the 11th, and Qatar on the 13th.
The top team from each group will gain outright quarterfinal berths, while the second- and third-placed teams from the groups will square off in a playoff to decide the other four quarterfinal spots. The playoff round is on Aug. 14-20.
Reyes form a mix of PBA veterans and rookies for the Asia Cup, namely June Mar Fajardo, RR Pogoy, Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo, Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Almazan, Jayson Castro, Matthew Wright, Jio Jalalon, Gabe Norwood and Carl Bryan Cruz.