Gilas program director Tab Baldwin firmly believes that Kai Sotto’s decision to sign with NBL–Australia club Adelaide 36ers will benefit all parties involved — including the national team.
First off, Baldwin sang praises for everyone involved in the negotiation between the two camps.
“Jeff (Van Gronigen, Adelaide team manager) is a great basketball man with a great story. He really knows how to put together an organization. I haven’t met Conner (Henry, Adelaide head coach), but Conner, by all accounts, is an outstanding coach and an outstanding person,” Baldwin shared during a press conference organized by SMART.
Baldwin and Van Gronigen go a long way back. The current Ateneo head coach has gone to many wars with the Aussies during his time as New Zealand head coach.
On the other hand, Henry — who signed with the 36ers back in April 2020 — was a former NBA player before transitioning into coaching. Moreover, he was the 2014 NBA D-League Coach of the Year.
As for the league, Baldwin says that the NBL is one of the few remaining leagues in the world that still produces plays for big men — far from what the 7-foot-3 Sotto experienced in the guard-centric Ignite team early this year.
Products of the NBL include the likes of Luc Longley, Andrew Bogut, David Andersen, and Mark Bradtke, all of whom were able to make it to the NBA.
“When you look at the Aussie NBL and you consider the history of that league, you’ve got a litany of big men that have come directly from that league and into the NBA,” he said.
“That league does play well to the big man’s game. It hasn’t completely gone the way that a lot of basketball has that are guard-dominated game. The big men in Australia still feature their play. This bodes well with the development of Kai in the future.“
Gilas also benefits from this arrangement. The NBL, and Adelaide specifically, works hand-in-hand with federations all over the world. Moreover, the NBL’s calendar is able to adjust to the new FIBA schedule.
“We have many players within the Australian Boomers national team that are also Adelaide 36ers players. We are used to working with the FIBA windows, we’re used to communicating with the coaches, and we know the coaches very well,” said Van Groningen.
“We are very comfortable integrating national team players in our program. If a player is a national team player, it means he’s a good player, so we work around it and make sure that both his national club and professional club are respected. And we’re expecting that to happen in both directions.”
Baldwin and Conner also share the same vision for Sotto.
“I think it’s an excellent marriage.
“You heard Connor talk about the physical development of Kai and a hundred percent endorse that. It’s going to be a huge challenge for Kai. I applaud Kai for the maturity of his decision, stepping up to a situation where it will be very tough for him. I think it’s going to be wonderful for his development,” said Baldwin.
Upon hearing all of the plans for him, Sotto can’t wait to come down to Australia this August.
Of course, there’s a huge task at hand first, which is to play for Gilas in the Asia Cup Qualifiers and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament this June. Still, he is looking forward to this chance to be able to showcase his wares.
“Very excited because the style of play will be different,” said Sotto, who signed a three-year deal with the team.
“Para sa akin, ang focus ko lang is to develop and mag-adjust para sa team ko.”