Sotto management team says 7-foot-3 teenager has G League blessing to join Gilas Pilipinas for Fiba window
Kai Sotto’s management team on Friday said the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League has allowed the teenager to return to the Philippines to join the national pool, asking only that the former Ateneo high school star immediately returns to its bubble after his service to the country.
“The NBA G League agreed for Kai to meet his commitments to play for the national team,” Maria Espaldon, chief operating officer of East West Private, a firm that represents Sotto and several prospects in the United States, told the Inquirer in a message.
Sotto officially announced on Thursday that he is returning to the Philippines to join Gilas’ training camp that features a healthy mix of collegiate standouts and pros. Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, which initially told the Inquirer of Sotto’s availability for the Gilas program, has not given a timetable for his arrival.
The national pool is currently bubbled in Laguna, where it is preparing for the final window of the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.
The unbeaten Filipinos need only one more win from three games slated at Clark Freeport next month to qualify for the continental hoops showcase that will be held in Indonesia this August.
Sotto’s presence should provide size for a team that will be without a naturalized player for its two games against Asian power South Korea and one game against Indonesia.
Beyond the additional inches, though, there’s little indication of what Sotto can bring to the squad after training in the United States for a long time and hooking up with G League squad Ignite, which is filled with top prep stars.
“We will only really know once he arrives and practices with the team,” said coach Jong Uichico, who handled the last Gilas squad that went 2-0 with scintillating routs over Thailand in the second window, handling a team of young college standouts.
Both South Korea and Indonesia will be backstopped by naturalized Americans who both played as imports in the Philippine Basketball Association.
Lester Prosper will be reinforcing Indonesia, which the Nationals play on Feb. 20, while Ricardo Ratliffe—now Ra Gun-ah—leads South Korea, which the Filipinos tackle on Feb. 18 and 22.
Sotto has since grown an inch taller (he now stands 7-foot-3) and looks perceptibly beefier following his training with Atlanta-based The Skills Factory and Ignite.
Sotto’s plans to join the national team and keep his spot with Ignite initially looked in peril as the G League was already putting finishing touches on its plan to stage its 2021 season within a bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The G League is set to pit 18 teams—including Ignite—by Feb. 8 in a tournament that is projected to run until mid-March, giving Sotto enough time to fly back to the bio-secure facility and rejoin his squad after his stint with Gilas Pilipinas.
“They have asked that (Kai) immediately report back to the bubble after his last national team game,” she added.
“I would love to see Kai in [the upcoming] lineup since we’re really short of big guys, like June Mar (Fajardo), Japeth (Aguilar) and Christian (Standhardinger),” LA Tenorio, a former pillar of the program, said in a recent television interview.
“And him telling his fellow Filipinos ‘I won’t let you down’? That’s huge. That’s added pressure on his back,” the veteran playmaker added. “It’s all eyes on him.”
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