MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines is planning to fast-track citizenship for American NBA veteran Andray Blatche in a bid to give its national team much-needed extra height and class at this year’s World Cup.
The Philippine Senate on Monday passed a bill to grant citizenship to the 6-foot, 11-inch (2.11-metre) Brooklyn Nets centre.
“Blatche is possibly the best centre from the NBA that we can get who is willing to shun more lucrative offers now and in the future just to be part of our national team,” said Senator Edgardo Angara, who introduced the bill.
The bill will be sent to President Benigno Aquino’s office for final approval, according to Angara.
Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Tuesday Aquino had yet to address the issue and could not say if or when it would be approved.
However a press release issued by the Senate on Monday said the the passing of the bill had the effect of “clearing the way” for the eight-year NBA veteran to compete at the World Cup in Spain, which starts in August.
The Philippines is a basketball-crazy nation, a legacy of American colonial rule, but its top players are generally too short to be a force in international competition.
However the Philippines came second in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship to Iran, a result which gained the Southeast Asian nation a berth in the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
In 2011, the Philippines naturalized American Marcus Douthit, a global journeyman, and he powered the Filipino squad to its surprise result in the Asian championships.
Averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds a game this season for the Nets, the 27-year Blatche is expected to play a leading role in the Philippine team alongside Douthit. They are the same height.
While the Filipinos put up a spirited fight in last year’s Asia championships, they were no match for the towering presence of Iran’s 7-foot, 2-inch-centre, Hamed Haddadi.
Ranked 34th in the world, the Philippines will face Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Senegal and Puerto Rico in Group B.