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Sotto joins Gilas 5, but don’t expect too much

Kai Sotto may not be in the best of shape. But the young Filipino star, the basketball prospect aiming to become the first full-blooded Filipino in the National Basketball Association, will still join the Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team when they clash with South Korea in the 2021 FIBA Asia Qualifiers on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Young and able, (from left) Angelo Kouame, Kai Sotto and Dwight Ramos are expected to lead the charge for the Gilas Pilipinas team. (fiba.basketball)
Sotto has not been able to join the practice sessions of the team after spending most of his time complying with a 14-day quarantine period when he slipped into town weeks ago.

He was only able to join the national squad over the weekend, just in time for Wednesday’s opening matches of the Group A and B matches  of the Qualifiers.

Still, fans will be looking out for Sotto when matches are aired on TV5 and held behind closed doors today at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center in Angeles, Pampanga.

“Not being able to do any basketball activities for 14 days will take its toll on anyone, so there will be a bit of load management from our part for Kai,” said national team coach Tab Baldwin when he named his 12-man lineup a day before the plunge into action.

Sotto is expected to make his 7’3” presence felt when he suits up with naturalized Filipino Angelo Kouame and Isaac Go. The three, together with former Batang Gilas teammates Carl Tamayo and Geo Chiu, are expected to be in the starting five.

The former Ateneo Blue Eagle is also anticipated to draw from the lessons he learned while training with the NBA G League Team Ignite for over a year before returning to the country.

Go took over the spot of Rey Suerte, who left the team due to an ankle injury he sustained last Thursday.

The 25-year-old Go, who is the first overall pick in the 2019 PBA Gilas Draft, was named with RJ Abarrientos, Justine Baltazar, SJ Belangel and Javi Gomez de Liano. The roster also includes William Navarro, Dwight Ramos, Carl Tamayo and Jaydee Tungcab.

Baldwin looks at their difficult game against Korea as a great opportunity for the young players that he has chosen, to get the chance to learn and draw good experiences from.

“We choose to look upon our great situation as a great opportunity, and, maybe there’s some irony here, that this will be about connection. And this is what we strive for everyday. We want these young men to be connected to one another,” said Baldwin.

New coach Cho Sang-hyun, who replaced Korean basketball great Hur Jae, will call the shots when the Koreans take on the host team twice within the same week in Group A action. Their next game is set on Friday.

The Koreans will have two-time FIBA Asia Cup campaigner Lee Seoung-hyun, gunner Lee Dae-sung and naturalized player Ra Gun-ah in the mix.

The 6’8” Ra, formerly known as Philippine Basketball Association reinforcement Ricardo Ratliffe, is not new to the Filipino style of basketball, having played for two PBA franchise squads for two years.

The veterans will be backed up young guns Yeo Jun-seok and Davidson College sophomore Lee Hyun-jung. 

Yeo, who played in the 2018 U18 Asian Championship, where he averaged 16.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals  and 1.8 blocks, is expected to match up with Sotto.

On the other hand, the 6’7” Lee is anticipated to be a threat, too, after making a big impact for his NCAA Division I school, with his norms of 13.5 points,  4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

In a Group B game, Japan confronts China at 2:30 p.m.

Topics: National Basketball Association , Kai Sotto , Gilas Pilipinas , Basketball , South Korea
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