ONE of the best big men Philippine basketball ever produced welcomed the entry of NBA veteran Andray Blatche in Gilas Pilipinas’ roster, saying the move to tap the naturalized player in lieu of Marcus Douthit was a step towards the right direction.
While he has nothing against the 6-foot-11 Douthit, Ramon Fernandez admitted age is fast catching up with the former Los Angeles Lakers draftee, and that Blatche’s presence is definitely like a whip of fresh air for the national team bound to the FIBA World Cup in Spain two months from now.
“That’s good,” Fernandez told Spin.ph when asked about the naturalization of Blatche during the halftime of the PBA Governors Cup game between Alaska and Barangay Ginebra at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think, ilang taon na ba si Douthit, mga 30-plus? Maybe it’s about time palitan na `yun considering the competitiveness sa ganung level (Fiba World Cup). I hope Blatche can help us,” added the lanky big man, who’s now based in Cebu.
Fernandez, one of only two players to win the PBA Most Valuable Player award four times along with Alvin Patrimonio, is the league’s all-time leader in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots, while ranking second all-time in assists and steals.
The man they call “El Presidente”, Fernandez was a member of the national youth team that captured the gold in the 1972 FIBA-Asia Under-18 Championships and was part of the men’s team that won the 1973 FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship in Manila.
He also played for the national squad in the 1974 FIBA-World Cup in San Juan, Puerto Rico
For someone who had played in the world level, Fernandez believes Blatche would be a big help in Gilas’ bid to make the quarterfinals of the quadrennial meet.
But given the world-caliber competition, Fernandez adviced the players to just enjoy the rare opportunity of playing in Spain.
“Just prepare well, have fun in the FIBA-World and hopefully, let’s not expect too much from our team, considering the level of competition abroad,” he said.
The Philippines is back in the world meet for the first time since 1978 after Gilas placed a surprise second in last year’s FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship here in Manila.
The FIBA-World Cup is scheduled from August 30 to September 14.
Given the top-caliber players Gilas will be competing against in the world meet, Fernandez said he’s more excited at seeing members of the national team upgrade their skills as they play against squads from Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Puerto Rico, and Senegal.
“I’m really looking at the experience they (Gilas players) will gain that should help improve their skill level,” said the 60-year-old cage great.
“For me, qualifying in the World Cup is already winning (in itself).”