Even at just 16 years young, 7-foot-1 enigma Kai Sotto has become the go-to guy when it comes to the campaigns of Batang Gilas Pilipinas.
Just this year, he has played in three tournaments in three separate age groups, at both the Asian and the World level.
Last April, Sotto was in China for the U16 Asian Championship. Batang Gilas placed fourth in that tourney, punching their ticket to the U17 World Cup in Argentina last July.
Then earlier this month, Sotto flew to Thailand for the U18 Asian Championship. Batang Gilas eked out a fourth-place finish to qualify in next year’s U19 World Cup.
Ateneo Blue Eagles mentor Tab Baldwin has noticed that the reigning UAAP Juniors Basketball Most Valuable Player has been in demand. Speaking to Eric Menk in his Staying Major podcast, the former Gilas Pilipinas head coach shared his fear that Sotto might be playing for too many teams, which might hinder his personal growth.
“I think he’s going to be an outstanding player. I think that his development curve is pretty extreme. We watched him over at Ateneo, and he’s pretty impressive,” disclosed the American-Kiwi tactician.
“But I think that’s where the focus has gotta be and if there’s one concern about how he’s being handled, I think he’s being put into too many teams. Everybody wants him because he’s gonna get you wins,” added Baldwin, as Sotto also played for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets and the Gilas Cadets last summer.
“But is that gonna be a win for him in the end? Or is that gonna be, ultimately, a win for the Philippines? “
At the Under-18 level, Sotto averaged 12.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. Though the young player put up commendable numbers, Baldwin hopes to see Sotto improve his strength and stamina.
“What he really needs to do is work on his body. Get his body into a great a shape at it can be at his age,” Baldwin remarked about Sotto’s skinny physique. “His skills are pretty advanced. But they’re never where they can possibly be. So I think his potential is huge, and I think that’s where all his development should be targeted – at his potential – and not use him to win games.
“He’s gotta use us to become a great player, and that will turn around and service Philippine basketball in the long run.”
But Sotto is about a couple of years away from entering his collegiate career. Many schools have made him offers both here and abroad – including Gonzaga in the US.
If Baldwin would advise Sotto’s parents, it is for him to either go to Europe or just stay here.
“I think there are some wrongs for him. Some things he shouldn’t do, some places he shouldn’t go. I don’t think he should go to the U.S. because over there, they are very, very win-oriented,” opined Baldwin, as the US’s one-and-done system focuses on wins rather than player development. “So I think, if he went to a college over there, which he can’t do now, but they’re gonna use him for the profile of their program, whatever it is.
“I wouldn’t like to see the U.S. involved until the NBA comes knocking, which I think the potential is there for that.
“I’d like to see kept here, but kept here under a very strict training regime which is bringing in outside influences and teaching him the game with European coaches, some American coaches that work on the body and skill-development. All of that is good. I’d like to see him stay. But if did end up going outside, I’d like to see him go to Europe if that were the option,” Baldwin pointed out.
At the end of the day, these are just Baldwin’s views. Sotto still has the luxury of time before deciding what is next for him.
Baldwin also gives a candid take on the Gilas-Australia brawl, how he had to change his coaching philosophies when he took over for Ateneo, and who he thinks is the best player in the country right now, which you can listen to here: