Gilas Pilipinas will travel to Beirut without its ace player Andray Blatche. And head coach Chot Reyes knows it will be an uphill climb for the Philippine team, which is the back-to-back runner-up in the competition.
Reyes named his final roster for the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup next month and conspicuously missing was the 6’10 naturalized center Blatche, who informed the squad he won’t be able to join them in the August 8 to 20 tournament in Lebanon.
“We got some huge shoes to fill, but as always, we will fight till the end,” Reyes posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday night.
Only Reyes and the Gilas management squad were informed of the real reason why Blatche was skipping the Asia Cup but according to reports, security issues in Lebanon was the main reason why the former National Basketball Association player is not joining the PH 5.
In his Instagram post, Blatche mentioned there was “a lot of reason” why he’s not suiting up in the Asia Cup but sent good luck to the squad.
“I will always be very thankful for the opportunity the love and the support I have received from my fellow Filipino family but it is a lot of reason why I can’t join and I don’t expect for many people to understand but I do wish my brothers the best of luck,” said Blatche.
Without Blatche, June Mar Fajardo and Filipino-German Christian Standhardinger, who made a good account of himself in the William R. Jones Cup in Taiwan where the PH 5 finished fourth, will be Reyes’ main big men in the Asia Cup where Oceania powerhouse teams Australia and New Zealand will be competing with the Asian nations for the first time.
Also named to the team were Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo, Jio Jalalon, Roger Pogoy, Matthew Wright, Gabe Norwood, Calvin Abueva, Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Almazan, and Carl Bryan Cruz.
Ed Daquioag was named the team’s practice player.
But even without Blatche, deputy coach Jong Uichico, who will call the shots for the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, believes that Gilas can compete well against the rest of the field.
“Andray (Blatche) is a big factor in our campaign in the FIBA Asia. But if he cannot play, there’s nothing we can do,” Uichico told The Manila Times on Wednesday.
“But regardless he’s there or not, I believe the morale of the players remain high because they are representing the Philippine team. The players will still do their best. They stay motivated all the time,” he added. “It’s a daunting task but our chance is still there.”
Gilas returns to practice on Thursday at the Meralco gym. The Filipino cagers are in Group B along with defending champion China, Iraq and Qatar.