THE chastening defeat suffered by Chooks-to-Go in their final FIBA Asia Champions Cup pool game ensured a theoretical pre-tournament match-up is now reality: Isaiah Austin versus Andray Blatche.
Had Chooks-to-Go – Philippines’ representative at the competition in Chenzhou, China – beaten Iranian side Petrochimi, they would have topped their group and avoided Blatche’s Chinese team.
Instead, as a consequence of their 87-66 loss, Chooks-to-Go must meet Xinjiang Flying Tigers – also known as China Kashgar – in Thursday’s quarter-final.
While the Chinese team are sure to start as favourites for victory after a more assured pool stage, much of the focus will be on two big men from the United States.
Blatche, Philippines’ naturalised player since 2014, appears to be nearing the end of his Gilas journey.
He skipped the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon last month, supposedly over security concerns, and is unlikely to be available for much of Philippines’ FIBA World Cup qualification campaign due to his commitments in China.
The 31-year-old former Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards big man, however, clearly still has an affinity to the Philippines.
The Philippine Star reported how Blatche – an off-court spectator – stood with his right hand on his chest while the Philippine anthem was played before the loss against Petrochimi on Tuesday.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes, though, is looking to settle on a naturalised player for future tournaments – and Austin is in pole position to take that role.
We are fighting against the odds out here. Loving our fight. We're playing for a bigger purpose. Shake back next game. #Puso 💙🇵🇭
— Isaiah Austin (@IsaiahAustin) September 26, 2017
The former NBA prospect had his draft dream ended when he was diagnosed with a genetic heart disorder in 2014 – but he is now clear to play and has impressed for Chooks-to-Go in China.
The 23-year-old averaged 19.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks across the four group matches and is proactively going about trying to build a career in Philippine basketball.
He has been mentioned as a potential future NBA player, but for now is focusing on impressing Reyes, his staff and new team-mates.
The tussle between Austin and Blatche will be one of the intriguing subplots in Thursday’s game.
Blatche will need to be sharper than he looked in China Kashgar’s blowout loss against Lebanon’s Al-Riyadi.
After missing his team’s opening three games, he returned against Al-Riyadi.
Despite laying on six assists in his 9:30 on the court, he also missed both of his shots.
Even the official FIBA website remarked that Blatche “might as well have sat out”, adding he “was hardly a factor” for his team.
FIBA Asia Champions Cup quarter-finals
Petrochimi (Iran) v Taipei Dacin Tigers (Taiwan)
BC Astana (Kazakhstan) v Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai (UAE)
China Kashgar (China) v Chooks-to-Go (Philippines)
Al-Riyadi (Lebanon) v Mono Vampire (Thailand)