SBP ironing out key details with Adelaide to make sure Sotto can suit up for national squad while playing for pro club
Kai Sotto agreeing to still suit up with Gilas Pilipinas even as he signed an agreement to play in Australia is one thing. Working out the logistics that will make transitions between his responsibilities as a pro and as a national player seamless is another.
And on Wednesday, Tab Baldwin, the project director of the national team program of the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas voiced plans to iron out the details to take advantage of the 7-foot-3 standout’s passion to represent the country.
“These are things that we’re discussing with Kai and his management group, and obviously there’s, there’s a tremendous commitment on everybody’s part to make everything work,” Baldwin said during an online presser on Wednesday.
“This is all very fresh, what we’re talking about here,” added Baldwin.
The logistics, indeed will be tricky. “[T]here are a lot of boxes that need to be ticked, and you know in this environment that we’re in in the world today with pandemics and quarantines and lockdowns,” Baldwin said.
But he has two things going for him. First, Sotto has the desire to fulfill national team obligations even as a professional. Second, his Aussie club, Adelaide 36ers, said it won’t stand in the way of Sotto representing the country.
“Playing for the national team is the top goal of any athlete,” Sotto said during the presser, which also unveiled him as a Smart ambassador.
SBP president Al Panlilio welcomed Sotto’s commitment to the national program and said the federation would always open its doors for the former Ateneo high school standout, who turns 19 next month.
“As I have always said in the past, Kai is always welcome in the Gilas program; he has been with us since Batang Gilas then for Smart also since his Ateneo days,’ Panlilio told the Inquirer late Wednesday evening.
Panlilio said he is hopeful Baldwin can work things out with the 36ers to ensure Sotto’s availability for the Gilas program as the national team embarks on two qualifying tournament—the Fiba Asia Cup qualifier in Indonesia and the Olympic qualifier in Serbia.
“It isn’t easy,” Baldwin admitted, adding that the good news is “everybody has the best intentions to make it work, and most importantly Kai has a passion for playing for Gilas.”
“So, without being able to give you specifics, you just have to know that we’re all working towards that,” Baldwin said.
Adelaide team manager Jeff Van Gronigen made an assurance that they will help in making sure Sotto representing the Philippines in international meets goes hitch-free.
“Our club works with the Philippine national team program,” he said.
Conner Henry, the 36ers coach, said Sotto’s stint with Adelaide could even help him be a better player for the national team.
“I know he’s playing against grown men in workouts down there in Miami (where Sotto is currently based), and he’s been developing,” he said. “He will be continue to be pushed physically and mentally.”
“This will be a huge challenge for me, especially I’m all about playing at the next level,” Sotto said.
“I have to get stronger. That’s really the number one thing that has been keeping me from playing at a higher level,” he said. “I need to be stronger and play more athletic. Once I’ve gained the right strength and speed, everything will be easier to play at that higher level.”
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