Blatche's early arrival augurs well for Gilas preparation for powerhouse Australia
Andray Blatche greets SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan upon his arrival at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to watch TNT's game against Ginebra. Jerome Ascano

LIKE a thief in the night, Andray Blatche slipped into the country on Friday.

The early arrival of the naturalized player augurs well for the Gilas campaign against Australia on Feb. 22 in Melbourne for the second window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.

Team manager Butch Antonio is elated that Blatche's arrival will give him 11 days to prepare with Gilas for the away match against powerhouse Australia and the home game against Japan three days later.

“Nandito na siya. He arrived last Friday,” said the Gilas official.

Blatche already showed up at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sunday for the PBA Philippine Cup game between TnT Katropa and Barangay Ginebra, where he joined no less than TnT owner and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan.

The 6-foot-11 Blatche is expected to be in the national team’s practice on Monday afternoon at the West Greenhills gym, sparing Gilas of the drama that had surrounded his previous arrivals.

Gilas teammate Jayson Castro said from the looks of it, Blatche appeared fit fo the daunting task ahead.

"Nakita naman natin na fit siya," said Castro of the former NBA player. "Talagang pinaghandaan niya itong game against Australia and Japan."

The national team will leave for Melbourne on February 19 in time for their clash with the Boomers on the 22nd.

Gilas then returns home the day after for their second meeting against Japan in the meet at the Mall of Asia Arena on February 25. The Filipinos beat the Japanese, 77-71, in their initial encounter in Tokyo last November 24.

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