A sense of familiarity surrounded Andray Blatche's return to Gilas Pilipinas Monday night at the Meralco Gym.
It was Blatche's first official practice with the national team since figuring in the infamous brawl against Australia last July. Gilas is making quick work of their remaining days of practice before flying out to Qatar and Kazakhstan for the sixth and final window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers.
"It was great. It was great just being on the floor with all my brothers again and fighting, start competing for the two games coming up," he said after nearly seven months away from Gilas.
Blatche missed the last two windows of the Qualifiers while serving a three-game suspension from FIBA. And now, he's making up for lost time since arriving in Manila last Friday. One main focus since his return is getting familiar with Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao. He has worked under coaches Tab Baldwin and Chot Reyes but this will be his first time under Guiao.
"His offense is more of going off instinct, you know. Just gotta be in the right spots at times and then after that, you just play basketball," Blatche said. "You know this is my third day here where I'm going over offense everyday. So it's coming to me easy."
Before practicing with Gilas, Blatche worked with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters last Saturday and NLEX Road Warriors on Monday morning --two teams who use the same system of Guiao.
"He's picked up on the plays really quick," Guiao said. "He's putting enough time and repetitions to be able to memorize the plays. I think he's just doing fine with the absorption of the system and the patterns, and getting to know the rest of the guys."
Since much of Guiao's offensive philosophy is predicated on reading and reacting, chemistry is important. Fortunately for Blatche, he is already familiar with most of the Gilas, save for four players he hasn't competed with -- Marcio Lassiter, Poy Erram, Scottie Thompson, and Mark Barroca.
"It was like clockwork," he confidently said. "It was like clockwork because, you know, I know what guys on this court are capable of doing and I know which guys are shooters, which guys are the slashers. His offense, like I said, is based off just knowing your teammate and knowing what they're gonna do next and instinct. And that actually works out in my favor for me."
Blatche will continue to practice with Gilas until February 11, the day he leaves for China. He will rejoin the team on the February 16 when they leave for Qatar.
Gilas, which owns a 5-5 record in Group F, will go up against Qatar on February 21 before playing Kazakhstan on February 24.
"For sure, everybody in this country knows the importance of these next two games. I know all my teammates know how bad we need this next win," said Blatche. "So it's a do-or-die for us and I know we're gonna give our all and leave everything on the court and come home with the two wins."