Much has been said about Kai Sotto’s decision to join Gilas Pilipinas’ training camp in Inspire Sports Academy last February.
Many had said that it was the wrong decision as it ultimately led to Sotto and Ignite “mutually” parting ways. Moreover, Sotto was not able to play a single game for Gilas as the Doha window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers was postponed to June.
But for Gilas program director Tab Baldwin, it was good for the 18-year-old’s mental health to have come back home, even if it was just for 13 days.
“There’s a lot of mystery about what happened with Kai with Ignite and I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if he had a genuine role with that team or be a part-time player and get minutes where he could. So, without knowing that, it’s very harsh to judge his decision as right or wrong. If you knew the answer to all of that, you can make a better assessment,” opined Baldwin during Saturday’s episode of Power & Play with Kume Noli Eala.
“I can only make one based on what I saw and I saw Kai enjoying. He was proud to wear a Gilas uniform. I saw him impress. I talked to him and asked him, ‘How does it feel to be one of the best on the court and you are just eighteen?’ He said, ‘Coach, it’s a great feeling that I can come back and contribute to the Gilas team. That I’m not just an eighteen-year-old who might play.'”
It’s been two years since Sotto left the country to chase the NBA dream.
He initially entered The Skills Factory program before getting an invite to join Ignite — the G League’s new program for elite high school prospects.
However, Sotto had only trained with Ignite until December as he and his camp decided not to come back for the team’s preparation for the G League season last February.
Save for a couple of statsheets, a few photos and videos, no one actually knows what went on during the months Sotto spent with Ignite.
But in those two years, Sotto had to leave a lot as well. And it was only through the Gilas bubble that he was able to reconnect with some of his friends like Dave Ildefonso and Juan Gomez de Liano.
“Look if we look at everything in hindsight, we can make a lot of better decisions — all of us. Kai, if the opportunity to look at it at hindsight, he would have looked at it differently,” said Baldwin.
“But, having had those few days with Kai and seeing the kid back around his friends, back around his Filipino skin, immensely enjoying not the training so much but enjoying the fellowship with his boyhood friends and seeing their development in basketball and seeing his development, that’s invaluable for him.”
Sotto has continued to preach that he is committed to the national team which is a welcome development for the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas. This as on deck for the national team are the final window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and the 2021 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments which are both set in June.
For Baldwin, he wants Sotto to come back as early as possible, not just for the program but for himself as well.
Yes, NBA scouts are still keeping tabs on the 7-foot-3 enigma.
“He has a willingness to come. I guess I’m the problem now if you will because my stance is the stance of a coach.
“As a coach, I am developing a team. To be part of that team, you have to be integrated into that team. To be integrated into that team, you have to contribute to that team. I have some conditions that if Kai comes back and he doesn’t train with us, I believe he is going to look bad. And I don’t think that’s fair to him. I don’t think that is fair to his prospects because NBA coaches are watching everything that Kai does. And if he comes back here and plays, they are going to watch,” he shared.
“For Kai to have the best experience here, he needs to be part of the training for no-less-than three weeks. This is the condition. We have to continue to talk to Kai and his people to talk about his schedule,” he closed.