MANILA, Philippines – Naturalized player Andray Blatche cannot wait to finally play in front of the famously passionate Filipino fans when Gilas Pilipinas competes in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July.
Blatche was part of the Gilas team that competed in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships in China, where they placed second to the home team and missed out on a berth to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
They have another chance to book their ticket to the Games, and Blatche is delighted that they will get to play for it in front of the home crowd.
"I can't wait. I'm very excited," Blatche told reporters during the halftime of the FilOil game between Colegio de San Juan de Letran and De La Salle University on Sunday at the Arena in San Juan.
(READ: Letran puts up a fight, still falls to Ayo’s undefeated DLSU)
"A lot of the players, I'm hearing that this is the first time they'll have the chance to play in front of their family, and you know, I can't imagine how loud it's gonna be," he added.
"I've been to a game before, and I've seen how crazy it gets. You know, hopefully the guys won't come out so nervous, and everybody stays poised and we do our job."
It will not be easy as the Philippines was grouped with France and New Zealand in the preliminary round, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the semifinals. Only the winning team will earn a ticket to Rio.
"Nothing's on my mind," said Blatche when asked about the pressure of facing a powerhouse team like France. "You know, we're home. We have everyone behind us, rooting for us."
"I feel like we have the ability, and we have the chance to shock a lot of people. The pressure's not on us," he stressed. "The pressure's on them."
Indeed, being the underdog, Blatche said, will take a lot of the pressure off the Gilas team.
"There's nothing wrong with being the underdog," he said. "It allows us to go and play our game comfortably, and not to be so stressed out there. I feel like we're gonna go out there with a lot of fight and with a lot of heart."
"I really think we have a good chance."
Turkey, Senegal, and Canada make up the other group in the Manila OQT. The qualifying tournament runs from July 5-10.
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