Gilas Pilipinas is definitely the youngest and most inexperienced team among the five nations competing in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers-Belgrade.
The Philippines can surprisingly go mano-y-mano in terms of height. But its 22-year-old average age is five years lower than the likes of Puerto Rico and Italy.
Nineteen-year-old Kai Sotto knows that facing much more experienced Serbia and the Dominican Republic in back-to-back days is a gargantuan task.
But sometimes, youth can also be a weapon.
“I expect this will be a tough challenge for us. We are going to face some very experienced and sized teams,” the 7-foot-3 big man told FIBA.
“On the other hand, we are a very young squad.”
Like the majority of the team, Sotto just made his Gilas Men debut during the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers’ final window. It saw him average 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks in three games played.
This time around though, he will no longer be facing Ricardo Ratliffe nor Lester Prosper. He will go up against veterans of either the NBA or the Euroleague.
But Sotto sees an advantage in their hunger since they want to prove that even this early, they can compete against the world’s elite like no. 5 Serbia and no. 19 Dominican Republic.
“Maybe the advantage we have is that we are hungry. We all know how important is basketball to the people in our country, and we want to make them happy and proud.”
Jordan Heading — the other player in Gilas considered as a pro like Sotto — seconded that they will show no fear in both games.
“I don’t think our team goes into any game with any fear. I think that’s what’s really awesome about[that] — even though we have young guys, these guys really don’t have any fear.
“If they have an open shot, they’re going to take it. If they have an open lane, they’re going to take it. I think we just love the game of basketball. We realized these guys put their socks on one foot at a time just like we do. They’ve got strengths, but they’ve also got weaknesses and we try to highlight those,” Heading stressed.