With Clarkson out, Guiao to fill last 6 slots of ‘fighting’ crew on Monday
Andray Blatche mentally surveyed the Gilas Pilipinas pool while talking to reporters about the difference between his last Fiba World Cup stint and the one the team is preparing for now.
Those names he scanned in his mind? They’re the ones he will count on from henceforth as the Philippines seeks to shock the world in the basketball centerpiece scheduled in China later this month.
The odds are against the national team surviving the group stage. But don’t tell that to Blatche.
“Anything is possible,” he said on Wednesday during a send-off for the team.
National coach Yeng Guiao believes the same. And even after he ruled out Jordan Clarkson’s availability for the World Cup, the mercurial mentor said the team that will represent the country in China will be one that won’t back down from physicality and try to win games by knocking down outside shots.
“The team that will represent us in the World Cup will be a team that will fight really hard,” Guiao said. “It won’t buckle under pressure and can stand the physicality of playing against bigger and stronger players.”
Guiao will name the final squad on Monday, needing to fill six slots for the 12-man roster.
He has already named Blatche, reigning five-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, former national team skipper Gabe Norwood, versatile big men Japeth Aguilar and Troy Rosario and two-way wingman RR Pogoy as shoo-ins for the squad.
“Me, Gabe, some of the other guys know what to expect in the fourth quarter, how each possession means a lot, how each rebound means a lot,” Blatche said.
Without Clarkson, Blatche will shoulder much of the responsibility of team’s offense. The last six slots will be culled from the remaining members of the pool: Raymond Almazan, Mark Barroca, Beau Belga, Robert Bolick, Poy Erram, Marcio Lassiter, CJ Perez, Kiefer Ravena, and Matthew Wright.
“I have total faith in our guards,” Blatche said. “They have to step up, they have to hit big shots and they got to lead us.”
“For us to have a chance, we should be able to hit our outside shots,” he said.
Guiao rued the absence of Lassiter, who will skip the tournament due to a knee injury.
“We really needed him badly,” Guiao said. “But I’m confident that other guys will be able to fill in for him.”
With the team in the homestretch of its preparations, Guiao doesn’t have time to linger over the nonavailability of Clarkson. Clarkson can only suit up for the Philippines in Fiba tournaments as a naturalized player because the Filipino-American NBA standout secured his Philippine passport past his 16th birthday.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas appealed to Fiba to reclassify Clarkson as a local, but hasn’t heard from the world basketball body yet.
Fiba limits teams to just one naturalized player on the roster and Blatche already holds that slot in the Gilas lineup.
“Fiba has not indicated any changes in its original decision, so we just have to move on,” Guiao said.
“We were very cautious with our optimism anyway,” he added. “Hindi na namin pinaasa sarili namin. We knew the circumstances and we had realistic expectations so there was really not much disappointment.”
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