Andray Blatche: I can’t wait to come back to Manila to give thanks

Andray Blatche soars for a dunk. (Photo from FIBA.com)

SEVILLE, SPAIN - Moments after the Philippines won its first FIBA World Cup game in 40 years, naturalized player Andray Blatche told Yahoo Philippines Sports that he wants to return to the country to thank the Filipino people for the tremendous support Gilas received. 

“The support we got from the Philippines and right here in Spain is more than enough for us to work so hard for this win.  I love it.  I can’t wait to get back to Manila to give my thanks,” said Blatche. 

The 28-year old NBA campaigner, who last played for the Brooklyn Nets, together with skipper Jimmy Alapag, led the Nationals with 18 markers in Gilas’ thrilling 81-79 overtime victory over Senegal to exit the tournament with a 1-4 card.

Blatche became a naturalized Filipino just two months before the world championship and his inclusion proved to be a brilliant decision. It was a win-win situation for both the Philippines and the 6’11” center-forward from Syracuse, New York. Blatche is currently an NBA free agent and is expecting to sign with a team within this month. His presence has surely given Gilas Pilipinas a shot in the arm during the FIBA World Cup, enabling the shortest team in the tournament to surprisingly give heavyweights Argentina, Greece, Croatia and Puerto Rico a run for their money with very narrow losses. 

It was no surprise that Blatche became the team’s best performer of the tournament.  In fact, he was one of the best players during the world championship as shown in his numbers. He topped the rebounding department with 13.8 boards per game followed by Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng and Iran’s Hamed Haddadi with 11.4. He also had the most double-double games with five, followed by Greece’s Giannis Bourousis, Dieng and Haddadi with three each. Blatche is also the third leading scorer in the event with 21.2 markers per game behind Puerto Rico’s JJ Barea’s 22 points and Argentina’s Luis Scola’s 21.6.

Andray Blatche with Yahoo Philippines Sports blogger Jude Roque in Seville. (Photo by Jude Roque)
Andray Blatche with Yahoo Philippines Sports blogger Jude Roque in Seville. (Photo by Jude Roque)

Blatche considers himself as blessed to be in the position he is in today – a sports hero representing an entire nation. “When I came to Manila in June, I noticed that basketball was like the air you breathe in the Philippines. It reminded me when I was young, when basketball became my escape route.  It changed my life.  It kept me alive,” said Blatche. 

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes had searched for candidates for naturalization to beef up the squad for the world championship after the Philippines won second place in the FIBA Asia Championship in Manila last year. Blatche and Denver Nuggets center Javale McGee were his top choices.  Reyes eventually picked Blatche.

When asked what made him agree to become a naturalized Filipino, Blatche replied, “When I arrived in Manila and saw how I was treated, and the way people are, just made my decision easy. It was a no brainer.  The people were so generous.  There was no way I could say no.”

The Philippines made a good showing in the world championship and earned the respect of the entire basketball world, thanks largely to Blatche.

But Blatche is even more thankful for letting him be part of an entire nation.

“To play for an entire country and not just for a city or state is amazing. The Filipino fans are loud, giving us more energy. They give us the ‘Puso’, the heart. They’ve given us the fire that we need. It’s just great.”