Naturalized player Andray Blatche said he's happy to be back and "compete with his brothers" following his Saturday morning shootaround with several members of Rain or Shine at the Meralco gym.
"It's always great to be back home, competing with my brothers. I've been competing (with them) for years," Blatche said, who arrived late Friday night.
The 32-year-old former Brooklyn Nets big man took a brief break from his Chinese squad Tianjin Gold Lions where he is averaging 19.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals and the same number of blocks in 13 games in the 2019 Chinese Basketball Association season.
Blatche said he's aware of the seriousness of Gilas' situation heading into the sixth and final window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
"I'm aware of our situation, but we still go out and play hard defense because offense is going to flow," he stressed. "I'm very confident against Kazakhstan because as long as we go there and prepare and play our game, I'm very confident."
Blatche admitted things were tough since he got suspended three games by FIBA following his involvement in the basketbrawl with powerhouse Australia last July 2 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
The NBA veteran wasn't included in Gilas' fifth window games against Kazakhstan and Iran. Both games saw the Philippine side lose, thus dropping to an even 5-5 record at Group F and putting Gilas' FIBA World Cup aspirations in jeopardy.
"It was tough for me (not playing for Gilas in previous windows) definitely. I fought with this team from the wins and the losses. So to not have opportunity to be with the (team in the) last pool, it was frustrating," Blatche admitted.
"But I still rooted for the guys and wished them the best. We end up losing the two games and I realized the predicament we were in. I was upset (because) I could have contributed to the team," he added.
Blatche will be reunited with members of the Gilas pool next Monday, though he intends to watch the PBA games starting Saturday night.
"I'm really excited to come to the games tonight and tomorrow to see the guys compete and play on their teams," said a beaming Blatche. "To come back here, it's always about my family. I love each and everyone of these guys on and off the court. I can't wait to see all of them."
Gilas coach Yeng Guiao already prepared a tight, compact basketball itinerary for Blatche.
Guiao said since Blatche will be heading back to China after February 10, they will have to fast-track everything for the NBA veteran as he tries to work with members of the Gilas pool beginning Monday night.
"We talked last (Friday) night over dinner when he arrived. He understands the urgency of the situation and he gave me his assurance that he's going to do his best to get us to the worlds," Guiao said on Saturday.
Based on Guiao's prepared schedule, Blatche will begin practicing with the team in its regular Monday evening practice, play in a tune-up match versus Alab Pilipinas Tuesday, join NLEX's practice the following day and return with Gilas for training on Thursday.
"In between days, he's going to practice with NLEX so we made him an itinerary for the rest of his stay here so there won't be wasted time while he's here," explained the 59-year-old Gilas mentor.
Blatche returns to China by February 11 and won't be meeting the Gilas team until they get together again in Qatar on February 16.
Guiao said with Blatche, he sees the former Brooklyn Nets slotman a matchup nightmare when Gilas plays Qatar on February 21 followed by Kazakhstan on February 24. Both games will be on the road.
"The skills that he has are tailor-made for the system," shared Guiao. "I think we can get him in better shape in the next few days. I also think Qatar or Kazakhstan might not have a good matchup against him one-on-one. So they'll have to send the double team or devise ways to control him especially on the low block."
Gilas' current pool has a phalanx of shooters, which Guiao believes will complement Blatche.
"That's exactly the idea why we got him in because Andray is going to create openings for other Gilas players. That's what we need. That's what we designed his presence to be because his presence is not just for him to score, but also for him to draw the attention on defense," explained Guiao.
Gilas shooters include Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter, Roger Pogoy and even stretch forward Troy Rosario.
Defensively, the fiery Gilas coach said Blatche will also be a rim protector, who will patrol the shaded lane, alongside five-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.