There were at least 37 players inside the Meralco Gym on Monday evening, and they were some of the biggest and brightest names in Philippine basketball. Four-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo was there, together with the seniors team, while the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles trio of Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto, and Isaac Go headlined the 23 for 2023 cast.
But there was one kid who stood heads above the rest — 7-foot-1 Kai Sotto.
“Ang tangkad niya, six-foot-ten ako nasa seven-foot-one na ata siya. Nag-usap nga kami ni Japeth [Aguilar] nung pag pasok ni Kai. Sabi ko, ‘Wala na dadakdakan na kami nun,” marveled Fajardo.
Sotto, who is just 15 years old, attended his first Gilas practice since being named to the 23 for 2023 pool. Even if it was just his first session under coach Chot Reyes, he was immediately tested.
During one of the night’s drills, Sotto, together with a mixture of the seniors team and the young squad, went on a simulation drill against foreign guests that included Eugene Toba and Ola Adeogun of San Beda and Chibueze Ikeh of Ateneo. Based on what everyone saw, the young buck was able to cope with everything that was happening.
“You saw it. He was able to run with us. Nakakasabay siya sa amin,” beamed Reyes.
“It’s very encouraging and there was a time he was together with [Will] Gozum, the two high school guys –- that’s the future right there.”
Even with the high hopes on him, Sotto is still just 15 years young. The pressure on him might break any other person, but for him, he is just savoring each moment.
“Di ko naman nilalagay ko sa utak ko yung mga ganun. Focus lang ako sa ginagawa ko,” said the consensus top High School prospect in the Chooks-to-Go/NBTC 24 rankings.
“Ikaw ba naman kung naglalaro ka ng basketball everyday so dapat sa isang tingin mo lang makikita mo na agad yung ginagawa e.”
Moreover, he is just glad to be where he is right now.
“Happy ako. Excited ako nung papunta kami dito kaya nag-payoff naman kaya sobrang saya ko kanina,” Sotto gushed.
“Sa tingin ko sa lahat ng players may matututunan ako kasi sinasamahan ko talaga sila lahat. Tinatry ko makisama sa kanilang lahat kaya gusto kong matuto ng marami from each and every one of them.”