Gilas faces Myanmar in SEABA opener

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Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes has an idea what kind of team Myanmar is but just the same, they’ll enter the game with an all-out approach as the PH 5 begins its campaign against the No. 92 ranked nation at the start of the 2017 Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship for Men today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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Game time is set at 7 p.m. as the Filipino cagers begin their journey to the lone spot at stake in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asian Cup.

Andre Blatche PHOTO FROM FIBA.COM

Indonesia and Singapore open the hostilities at 3 p.m. followed by the match between Malaysia and Thailand at 5 p.m.

“We are not thinking if it’s going to be easy or not. We will just go all-out from the start (against Myanmar),” said Reyes, who is returning to his old position after a brief hiatus.

Naturalized player Andray Blatche is back to the Gilas fold and though not in his best shape yet, Reyes said the 6’10 forward will be a big help in their bid to win the tournament.

“He (Blatche) looks better now physically and we’ve had two good practices as well,” said Reyes.

Myanmar has never been a basketball-crazy nation and it does not have the height and skills to match the Philippine team.

“Remember they are not a basketball country. We’re just going to play and win,” said deputy coach Jong Uichico.

After Myanmar, the No. 27 ranked Philippine team will take on Singapore on May 13 and Malaysia on May 14 before taking a one-day break. On May 16, Gilas will face Thailand, Vietnam on the 17th and Indonesia in the final day on the 18th.

Besides Blatche, the members of Gilas 5 are mainstays Jayson Castro, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo and Troy Rosario as well as first-timers Raymond Almazan, Allein Maliksi, Roger Pogoy, Jio Jalalon and Matthew Wright.

Inspired Blatche itching for action
The Philippines is the heavy favorite to win the meet and the inclusion of naturalized player Blatche in the final roster even made the PH Team more formidable. Even without the former National Basketball Association (NBA) forward, the Philippines remains the top team to beat in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifier.

But Blatche said Gilas 5 is not just about him and they need to play as one cohesive unit in order to bag the lone slot for the Asian Cup.

“There is no pretty much one person greater than the team and that’s what I learned in basketball. You have to come together [as a team],” said the 30-year old Blatche, who is fresh from leading the Xinjiang Flying Tigers to their first crown in the Chinese Basketball Association.

“I don’t want us to think that we’re going to go out there and play easy. A lot of teams are thinking they have a chance of knocking us down, so we got to stay focused and compete,” added Blatche, a former Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards cager.

He admitted that he has yet to adjust to his new Gilas teammates particularly Pogoy, Wright, Maliksi and Almazan but it won’t be a problem as the PH 5 will draw strength from the hometown crowd.

“Energy of course, energy with the hometown crowd supporting you. You could be playing for 40 minutes and you need that extra boost,” said Blatche, adding that the birth of his first son Andray Jr. last April 7 was an added motivation to perform well in the SEABA joust.

Blatche represented the Philippines in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain, in the 2015 FIBA Asia Men’s Championship in China and last year’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which the country hosted.

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