Sotto commits to join Gilas for key tourneys this year

YOUNG Filipino international basketball campaigner Kai Sotto has committed to play for the national team in key tournaments this year. — FIBA

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

KAI Sotto expressed his commitment to don the national colors in key tournaments this year.

The young international basketball campaigner shared on Wednesday that he is looking forward to playing for Gilas Pilipinas in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in June and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup after.

“I’d like to announce that I’m very excited and honored to be joining the Gilas national team playing in the OQT and FIBA Asia Cup,” said Mr. Sotto, 19, in a virtual press conference where he was introduced as well as the latest brand ambassador of Smart Communications, Inc.

In the briefing, it was also announced that the former Ateneo High School standout has signed a multi-year deal to play in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL) with the Adelaide 36ers.

Mr. Sotto, who is currently in the United States training under the guidance of his management team East West Private, surprised many when he decided to come back to the country early this year to play for the national team in the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers despite him part of Team Ignite in the NBA G League, which was set to see action in the league’s “bubble” tournament in February.

Unfortunately for him, the Asia Cup event here was canceled over concerns on the spike of coronavirus cases.

He then went back to the States after and tried to rejoin his Team Ignite squad in the bubble, but things did not pan out as hoped and both parties mutually agreed to part ways.

Mr. Sotto has since continued with his training and is now in Miami, Florida, honing his skills.

For the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), the expression of commitment of Mr. Sotto to play for flag and country is a welcome development.

SBP officials said there is nothing definite yet as to when the young player can join the team, but they are working on having him over as soon as possible to begin preparation with him in tow.

“This announcement is still fresh to us. We’re looking forward to having Kai play with the young Gilas Team soon. We still need to discuss things with Kai and his management group. There’s still a lot that needs to be sorted out, especially with the situation with the pandemic and all the quarantine and lockdown protocols,” said SBP program director Tab Baldwin, who was also part of the press conference.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sotto said he is excited to showcase his wares Down Under with the Adelaide 36ers.

“I’m both excited and a little nervous. It’s a different kind of competition in the NBL and place than the United States. But I’ll work hard and do what I have to do to adjust and earn my spot and help the team,” he said.

Recognizing what the seven-footer could potentially give their team, officials of the 36ers said they are happy to have Mr. Sotto play for their team, which is looking to improve in the nine-team NBL.

“We are delighted to welcome Kai, both to the club and the City of Adelaide. Having him in Adelaide will only enhance the club’s reputation for identifying and developing elite basketball talent,” said Adelaide Chairman Grant Kelley.

“The thing with Kai is that he realizes that he has work ahead of him as all rookies do when coming in to this tough league, but his combination of height and developing skills set give him every chance to raise his game,” 36ers General Manager Jeff Van Groningen, for his part, said.

The Adelaide officials went on to say that they do not see any conflict with Mr. Sotto’s commitment with Gilas as the NBL is set up to work along the scheduled windows of FIBA and that they will communicate with the SBP to make the process fluid as possible.