TAIPEI – Gilas Pilipinas’ buildup for the 2015 Fiba Asia championship was dealt another setback when naturalized player Andray Blatche went home to the US to attend the funeral of an uncle, ruling him out of the national team’s campaign in the Jones Cup.
Blatche left for the US on Saturday morning, a day after Gilas’ arrival in this progressive city to compete in the Jones Cup which national coach Tab Baldwin had penciled as the key part of the team’s buildup for the Fiba Asia showcase in Changsha, China next month.
Baldwin admitted Blatche’s departure was another blow for a team that had been buffeted by one setback after another since its formation in August, from the withdrawal of players in the original pool to injuries to the new players.
“It’s a setback,” he said from the team hotel after scouting the Iran-Korea game in Day One of the Jones Cup with assistant coach Alex Compton.
“It’s out of everybody’s control. It definitely doesn’t help us, and doesn’t help him on the improvements that he is getting,” Baldwin said of his naturalized player.
At the same time, Baldwin said Blatche’s departure is just another hurdle to clear for a team that he said has been ‘snakebit’ from its formation but is determined to do well in the China tournament serving as a qualifier for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“The team is very determined to prove everybody wrong and go against the seeming bad luck that has gone our way,” said Baldwin. “We have a chip on our shoulders. At the risk of sounding like we are premeditating excuses, it’s true, we have been snakebit.”
The American-New Zealander coach said there is no definite timetable for Blatche’s return, although he expressed hope that the former Brooklyn Net can still play one or two games with Gilas in the Jones Cup.
“Maybe next week,” he said when asked about Blatche’s return. “I don’t know if he’ll play any (games here). Maybe one, maybe two, but no more than that, I am sure.”
More than anything else, missing out on the Jones Cup sets back Blatche’s return to competitive form after reporting for Gilas training camp overweight and out of shape.
Playing eight games in eight games in this tournament which Gilas won the last time it competed here in 2012 would have gone a long way in bringing Blatche back to top form ahead of the Fiba Asia showcase which begins on September 23.
Asked about the shape Blatche was before he left, Baldwin said: “He’s better, but he’s not really what he was last year. But I can’t fault him for what he has done since he got here. Hopefully, when he’s in the States, he’ll get on a bike or do some things (to continue improving).”