Yeng’s Gambit Paying Off, Part 1

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Team Pilipinas Head Coach Joseller Guiao said it wasn’t about Andray Blatche. It was about the local crew.

He was talking about why he left Blatche out in Window 5 of the FIBA Asia Qualifiers last December 2018 where an All-Filipino crew (Christian Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle are true-blue Filipinos based on our Constitution) eventually succumbed to twin defeats.

He wanted to see if an All-Filipino crew could get the wins and I say he was on the right track. He knows he has some room to wiggle, and he was not afraid to take the chance.

Wittingly or not, Guiao’s gambit is paying off. Because the result he got is what the doctor may have ordered for them to go deep in the World Cup games.

But even before dipping into what that “thing” is, I will not be the one who will disrespect the best and “baddest” Gilas member we have and not to acknowledge his contribution to and desire to be with his team when he was needed the most.

Blatche is an Unstoppable Monster…

… in Group B, and specially later under Guiao’s system in Group F, of the FIBA Asia Qualifiers.

All in all, the Philippine Team was going up against Australia, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Qatar. With the exception of Australia and Iran, the other teams simply have nobody to stop him one-on-one and would have to execute double team, even triple team, if they are to limit him.

Gilas sorely missed him during the Iran game and the results would have been different had he played. This was proven in the recent Qatar and Kazakhstan games.

The Philippines was on shaky grounds early against Qatar, leading by just one, 18-17, 6:32 left in the first half when it went on a 13-4 run to increase the lead to 10 at halftime. Blatche chipped in 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a free throw for the cause.

He was again at it to start the third by dropping 9 points on three triples, 3 assists and 2 rebounds to lead Gilas’ 17-5 crippling run before hitting the bench, leaving a 32-point lead to his teammates.

He was fielded back in at the 9:23 mark of the fourth with the team leading by 30, 62-32, and leaving the hardcourt for the last time at the 3:03 mark with the lead up to 40, 77-37.

He finished that game with 17 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks with a net +41 when he is on the floor.

He was even more incredible against Kazakhstan and set the tone for the Philippines early in the game.

He pumped 17 points that included five triples to singlehandedly carry Gilas to a 22-21 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Kazakhstan opened a 5-0 early lead but Blatche poured in all his first quarter points to anchor a 19-6 counter attack to push the Philippines ahead, 19-11. The hosts closed it out with an 11-3 run of their own to end the quarter.

Blatche had 17 points, including five triples, along with 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block during his first quarter brilliance.

Guiao opined that Gilas would have been down by 15 and would have a hard time recovering if not for Blatche’s explosion.

Four more points by Blatche during a Gilas mini-run made it 51-40 early in the third. Picking up his fourth foul, however, forced him to the bench when the count was at 60-51, 3:45 left in the third.

He would return back with 7 minutes left in the fourth, Gilas now holding their biggest lead as of that point of the game, a 14 point, 77-63 lead. He proceeded to jot 7 more points to finish his night and set Gilas’ record in the qualifiers at 7-5.

Blatche’s final tally included 41 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks.

Blatche is an admirable representative of PH

Blatche’s association with the Gilas as admirable as it could get.

He was never been a trouble to his teammates, his coaches, officials and to the Philippine community.

We saw him get into “action” in defense of his Filipino brothers, probably knowing the dire consequences, when they were being bullied during the brawl.

We saw him express disappointment and frustration after being left out but positively responding without hesitation when call for help was made.

He didn’t take any offense about Guiao’s criticism of his possibly being out of shape and, instead, showed up in tiptop form.

He was proud wearing the Philippine colors in the qualifiers and he wants to push us to greater heights in the next round of competitions.

His skill set is perfect fit in Guiao’s system, as well as, the perfect bigman tandem for June Mar Fajardo’s skill set. Guiao should not find any trouble if he chooses to have them both on the floor.

This find by the Philippine Team does not grow in trees and I couldn’t be prouder as a Filipino, and salute him, for his being our centerpiece in the two consecutive appearances in the world stage.

By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS
Photo by: fiba.basketball

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