As a high school player in the Philippines, Kai Sotto stands out amongst his peers like a luxury car beside sedans and hatchbacks.
With his 7-foot-1 frame, no other player in secondary basketball can match up.
On Monday evening at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City, the Ateneo Blue Eaglet rubbed shoulders with the likes of June Mar Fajardo, Beau Belga, and JP Erram as one of the pool members of the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team in their upcoming 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
“Siyempre sobrang saya ko.
“Sobrang excited para sa gabing ito na maka-practice yung mga PBA players, and hindi lang PBA players kung hindi mga PBA stars rin. Siyempre sobrang saya ko,” said the UAAP Season 80 Juniors Basketball champion.
The likes of Ricci Rivero and Kiefer Ravena, as college stars, were called up to train in various national pools throughout the years before they even made the PBA. Sotto has stretched it further as the first high school student, at least in recent memory, to join the senior squad.
“It’s an honor na maging sixteen years old and makasama sa lineup nito,” declared the young big man.
“Pero itong opportunity na ito, hindi ko sasayangin, talagang susulitin ko to na talagang every moment talagang i-cherish ko dahil para sa akin naman ito.”
While coaches Yeng Guiao and Caloy Garcia taught the players some offensive sets, Sotto executed them on the court together with the likes of Alex Cabagnot and Jayson Castro, who fed him the ball. For the record, the 16-year-old threw dunk after dunk as if he were practicing with his mother team in the Moro Lorenzo Gym.
“Wala namang pressure dahil, yun nga, pinakabata pa naman lang ako dito. Pero alam ko naman na tutulungan ako ng mga coaches and mga teammates ko dito, kaya walang pressure,” explained Sotto.
And then the main event of the evening arrived late into the session. The coaches formed two teams from the 12 attendees and the arrangement saw Sotto take on Fajardo – a battle between the present and future of Philippine basketball and something that the young man was elated to experience.
“Madami akong gustong matutunan. Gusto ko rin matutunan siguro yung competition ng mga PBA players and siyempre yung mga laro nila against yung mga players galing sa ibang countries,” said the national youth team player.
From a pool of 20 players, Guiao can only select 12 cagers for the Philippines’ next assignments against Kazakhstan and Iran on November 30 and December 3 respectively at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
While there is a chance of Sotto not making the final cut, the kid is just happy to have a chance to prove himself with the big boys.
“Okay lang naman dahil alam kong magiging maganda yung decision ni coach Yeng and kahit anong mangyari, talagang hino-hope ko lang na maging successful itong team na ito lalo na ngayong window and sa mga susunod pa,” expressed the best under-16 center in Asia.
“Siyempre, as a sixteen-year-old fan pa rin ako nila and i-cheer ko pa rin sila kahit ano mangyari.”