MANILA – Brooklyn Nets forward-center Andray Blatche on Sunday expressed his gratitude to be given a chance to represent the Philippines in the FIBA World Cup as he makes his first visit to Manila.
Blatche arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport before noon on Sunday and was welcomed by Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes.
"It was an amazing opportunity for me to come here, to learn your culture and to represent y’all,” said Blatche in a short press conference after his arrival.
“I was very thankful the first time I heard about it. I was excited, I pretty much jumped on it and I was all for it,” he added.
The Philippine Senate last month passed a bill granting Filipino citizenship to the American-born Blatche, although it will only be finalized once President Benigno Aquino III signs it.
"I'm very careful about making statements on when and how the President will sign it," Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Sonny Barrios said. "He's the President of the country, so let's give him the space and he knows what needs to be done."
"Let's wait. We're quite positive that things will work out the way we want it to be," Barrios added.
By agreeing to play for Gilas Pilipinas, Blatche has now given up the chance to play for any other national team, including that of the United States. He said he is "fine" with this, however.
"It's opportunities like this that you hardly ever get," he said. "It's opportunities like this, it's once in a life time. I told my mother and my closest friends about it, and they’re very excited, they have my back 100%."
"They made my situation, they made my choice easier for me to make, so I’m just thankful that I was the person who had the opportunity to come here," he added.
Blatche, an eight-year NBA veteran, is expected to boost Gilas’s chances inside the pain and complement the Filipinos’ style of "speed, hustle and heart," Reyes said.
"Look, we need size," Reyes said. "We're the shortest team in Asia. The last time I looked, we don’t have a 6-foot-11 guy who can shoot the three, run the floor, and block shots like he does."
"We love JunMar Fajardo, we love Japeth Aguilar, and we love Marcus Douthit and we appreciate everything he's done and continues to do for us," he added.
"But this is just about making the team better, and everyone in the team knows it."
Reyes also said that "the real hard work begins" now for Gilas, as they "gotta come out, get together, know each other and play some ball."
Gilas is part of a tough group in the FIBA World Cup, as they face Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Senegal and Puerto Rico in August.
When asked what he thought of the national team's chances against teams like Argentina and Greece, Blatche said: "They gotta watch out for us. We're gonna go out there and we’re gonna fight. They gotta watch out for us."
Blatche will be in Manila for a couple of days, said Reyes.
"The whole purpose of the trip was to introduce him, for him to meet the team, to meet MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan, to pay a visit to the two Houses tomorrow, the Congress and the Senate," said Reyes.
"And then, we'll have time to watch a PBA game tomorrow as well," he added. "Andray just wanted to make sure that he comes in and shows the Filipinos that he’s here, he’s for real." -- With Agence France-Presse