CHANGSHA, China – In the short time he has played for Gilas Pilipinas, Andray Blatche has become as Filipino as adobo.
Asked what he thought would be the key for the national team which faces an unbeaten China side for the crown in the Fiba-Asia Championship, the 29-year-old naturalized player replied the way any Gilas player would.
“Play with a lot heart (puso),” said Blatche, who had a double-double of 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Filipinos’ 81-70 drubbing of Japan in the semis to move a win away from reaching the Olympics for the first time in more than four decades.
The 6-foot-11 Syracuse, New York native relishes playing in the final considering he’s seeing action in the biennial meet for the very first time.
Marcus Douthit served as the national team’s naturalized player in the last two editions of the Fiba-Asia meet in 2011 (Wuhan) and 2013 (Manila), respectively, before Blatche was tapped to come on board in time for the Fiba World Cup in Spain last year.
“It’s my first time playing in the Fiba Asia. We came here to go, and now we’re here,” he said.
But Blatche knows the Chinese are a formidable lot, having played in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) the past season with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers after playing nine years in the NBA.
He also happens to have China team star player Yi Jianlian for teammate during their stint with the Washington Wizards.
“I know the guys over there, they’re all good,” said Blatche, selected by the Wizards as the 49th pick during the 2005 draft.
“It’s gonna be a big. It’s going to be a dogfight.”