MANILA, Philippines – The members of the Philippine national basketball team are excited to start working with Brooklyn Nets center Andray Blatche, believing he will help them improve their game as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup in Spain later this year.
Blatche arrived in the country last Sunday and visited the Philippine Senate on Monday.
He has already met with Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Sonny Barrios and SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan.
He has also met some of his Gilas teammates, including Jimmy Alapag, Ranidel De Ocampo, Jayson Castro and Larry Fonacier.
In an interview with Joaquin Henson of The Philippine Star, Alapag praised Blatche for visiting Manila even though he did not need to.
"Technically, Andray didn't need to come over here. But the fact that he did shows his character," Alapag said, describing Blatche as "a down-to-earth, laid-back, and humble guy."
"We're excited to play with a guy like Andray," Alapag added.
For his part, Pangilinan said, "He's a nice guy to talk to. He'll surely help us in Spain."
The Senate late last month passed a bill giving Blatche Filipino citizenship, although it is still awaiting the signature of President Benigno Aquino III to make it official.
"He's obviously very talented as a basketball player," Alapag said of Blatche, a second round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
"Talking to him, we sense that he's very excited to play with us, too. I think with Marcus (Douthit) and Andray in the gym, they'll change the whole complexion of how we practice," he added.
After meeting with members of the Philippine Senate on Monday, Blatche told reporters that he was “very excited to play for the Philippines.”
"I thank everyone for making this once in a lifetime chance happen. I am a Filipino now, so I will do my best to help my team," he said.
The FIBA World Cup begins in Spain on August 30. Gilas Pilipinas is grouped with Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Senegal, and Puerto Rico in Group B.