Another cycle of Gilas Pilipinas Youth is about to end.
And in this cycle, it was all about Kai Sotto and the golden age of young Filipino bigs.
During the Sotto-era, the youth national team soared to unprecedented heights, reaching both the 2018 Under-17 and 2019 Under-19 World Cups.
But it was not just the 7-foot-2 Sotto protecting the Philippine fort. There were also the likes of 6-foot-10 AJ Edu, 6-foot-8 Geo Chiu, 6-foot-7 Carl Tamayo, and 6-foot-7 Raven Cortez.
But for the Under-18 — and hopefully, 19 competitions — only Sotto and Cortez will remain.
So what’s next for the program?
On Coaches Unfiltered, presented by SMART Sports and supported by Mighty Sports and Choi Garden, Gilas Youth head coach Sandy Arespacochaga revealed the challenges that the program will face entering the next era of the youth team.
“We’re hoping that magkaroon pa ng further cooperation with the schools. With regards sa cooperation, I mean sa practice schedules, and like I said, we’ve gotten a lot of help and cooperation also. But of course, with regards to coming up with a team, you really need a lot of time,” said Arespacochago.
“If we’re going to compete internationally, just looking at the talent that we have, we have talented players — but the seven-footers, sila Kai wala na eh. Now we don’t have these seven-foot players, mga six-foot-ten, six-foot-eight that generation of Kai, AJ, Carl Tamayo, Geo Chiu.”
Currently in the under-16 pool are the likes of NU’s Kenji Duremdes, Echo Laure, Kim Tamayo, Reinhard Jumanoy, and PJ Palacielo; LSGH’s Seven Gagate, Ethan Alian, Manuel Pablo, Jan Macalalang, and Jesseray Arciaga; Ateneo’s Ian Espinosa, Lebron Lopez, Mason Amos, and Justin Diaz; UP’s Jordi Gomez de Liaño and Sean Torculas; San Beda’s Nicael Cabanero and Prince Alao; Letran’s JR Guevarra; FEU’s Luis Buenaventura and Kenshin Padrones; and Xavier’s Keith Wongchuking.
Though not as tall as the previous batch of Gilas Youth, Arespacochaga knows that they can compete as long as they have chemistry and camaraderie. But they can only build that with time.
“Of course sa under-eighteen, hindi pa tapos si Kai and Raven Cortez. But after these two, wala na tayong malalaki,” said the long-time Ateneo assistant coach.
“So I think we should come up with a team na hindi lang basta collection ng talented players, but we have to come up with a team that have been practicing for a long time and have been practicing together to come up with a really strong team in order for us to compete internationally.”
One prospect that Arespacochaga hopes to add is 7-foot Fil-Hawaiian Sage Tolentino. However, the papers of the 16-year-old are still being fixed.
“Definitely we want him. But even if he doesn’t make it in the youth leave, we are hoping he gets his papers done for Gilas Men’s.”