by Jonas Terrado
Gilas Pilipinas will no longer play the waiting time with Andray Blatche this time after the naturalized player returned to the country sooner than expected for the team’s final preparation for the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers slated later this month.
The former NBA player arrived from China late Friday and reportedly did his own individual work over the weekend ahead of Gilas’ sixth practice session today at the Meralco gym in Ortigas.
Coach Chot Reyes, his coaching staff and Gilas supporters probably heaved a sigh of relief after the first window of the qualifiers last November saw Blatche joining the team days before the victories over Japan and Taiwan.
Reyes said that the Chinese Basketball Association was due to release its players for international duties sometime this week for the qualifiers. Gilas is scheduled to play Australia in Melbourne on Feb. 22 and Japan on Feb. 25 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The second window could see Gilas secure qualification to the next round as it currently tied with the Aussies for the lead in Group B with identical 2-0 slates. The next window is set in late-June with the Filipinos facing Taiwan on the road and Australia at home.
The top three teams in the group advance to the next phase of qualifiers where it will play the three best nations from Group C, a bracket composed of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and India.
The qualifying windows for the final round are slated in September, December, and Feb. 2019.
Gilas is expected to begin its daily practices after tonight’s session, although Reyes said that he had held talks with PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial regarding the schedule.
The 6-foot-11 Blatche hopes to bounce back from a sluggish showing in the first window where he averaged just 9.5 points, making just 6-of-20 shots for a 30-percent clip.