MANILA: American NBA veteran Andray Blatche arrived in the Philippines on Sunday to suit up for the basketball-mad nation’s national team as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
The 6-foot, 11-inch Brooklyn Net’s center was welcomed by a beaming Chot Reyes, head coach of Gilas Pilipinas, which earned a berth in the World Cup after placing second behind Iran in last year’s Asia championship.
“He’s here,” Reyes announced on Twitter where he posted a photo of him and Blatche standing side by side.
The Philippine Senate last month passed a bill granting citizenship to American-born Blatche—although it will only be finalized once President Benigno Aquino signs it.
Blatche, an eight-year National Basketball Association (NBA) veteran, is expected to boost Gilas’ chances inside the paint and complement the Filipinos’ game-style of “speed, hustle and heart”, Reyes said.
In the former American colony, basketball, along with boxing, is considered the de facto national sport.
Manila is also home to Asia’s first professional basketball league, whose rules are pattered after follow that of the NBA and of FIBA.
Over the years, a string of NBA journeymen have played in the local league as “imports”, including former Laker Cedric Ceballos and ex-Nets Chris Morris.
Blatche is expected to play alongside Marcus Douthit, who had spent his career playing in the European league.
Ranked 34th in the world, the Philippines will face Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Senegal and Puerto Rico in Group B in August.