#FIBAOQT: Blatche gives Gilas a huge lift

(Image from FOX Sports PH)
*This first appeared on FIBA.com.

The Philippines appear to have had a turning point this week with the return of Andray Blatche from the United States and coach Tab Baldwin having had the luxury of holding practices with nearly a full squad.

The veteran play-caller was certainly enthusiastic after the team's latest practice on Thursday at the Meralco Gym when he spoke to reporters about the attitude he saw in training.

"It's our best practice yet," he said. "I think the intensity was there. I thought Dray (Blatche) came in with a lot of intensity today. We sort of followed him a little bit. He lifted the level of energy and intensity and I think other players have to step up and do that as well. We have to do it vocally and not just by example."

The Philippines are preparing to host the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Manila and if Blatche is in the same sort of form as two years ago when he made his Gilas bow at the the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, Baldwin's squad is going to be tough to beat. They will play in Group B against France and New Zealand.

Turkey, Senegal and Canada will play in Group A and only the winner of the OQT will progress to the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Blatche was nearly unstoppable at times the past two years. The team's leading scorer and rebounder, he was a little overweight last summer but still effective when the Philippines played at the FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha-Hunan and finished second to China.

"Andray's a very smart basketball player and with him, it's always a matter of getting out of his system – whatever he learned in the last system that he played in – and just starting to feel comfortable. He makes that adjustment very quickly," Baldwin said.

The coach does have some concerns about his backcourt, though. Marcio Lassiter has felt unwell and missed several days of training while Jeff Chan is still being slowed by a groin injury. The former may not be well enough to travel with Gilas to Europe on 10 June.

"I don't know if we can get him (Lassiter) back before we leave for Greece," Baldwin said. "Our hope right now is to at least get on the plane and hopefully have him for a day or two before that. But he’s not well."

Baldwin is worried that both players are missing valuable practice time with the OQT tipping off in just over a month.

"I am, with our two guards having physical problems right now," the coach said. "None of them is so serious that we don’t think they won't be there in the end. But it's again integration, chemistry, getting enough practice time to be comfortable and fluid with what we are doing."




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