‘We can’t put too much pressure on Sotto’

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    WHILE Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio is convinced Kai Sotto will be a big boost for Gilas Pilipinas in the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in Doha, the burden of carrying the team should not rest on the shoulders of the US-based big man.

    “He’ll be a great addition. He’s improved a lot, for sure. I’ve gotten that word. But he’s just 18 years old. We can’t put too much pressure on him. He’s the future of Philippine basketball for sure but he’s also developing as a player, as a person,” Panlilio said yesterday on the online Philippine Sports Association Forum.

    “Again, it’s important that as often as he can really come to play with us, to be part of the team, to practice, to understand the system, it’s long-term, in 2023, hopefully he’ll be an important piece of that team in the World Cup that we’re hosting,” he added.

    Panlilio said the 7-foot-3 Sotto was expected to arrive in the country last night.

    “He boarded the plane yesterday (last Monday) and he’s arriving today (yesterday) in Manila. Na-delay iyong departure niya so hopefully, hindi niya na-miss iyong connecting flight niya,” Panlilio said in the public sports program presented by San Miguel Corp., Go For Gold PH, Milo, Amelie Hotel Manila, Braska Restaurant, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. , and powered by Smart with Upstream Media as webcast partner.

    “As of the moment, I know he’s arriving if not this afternoon, early this evening. He’s actually coming over, he’s on his way. He sent a picture that he’s with Ervin (Sotto, Kai’s father) so he’s en route.”

    Sotto, 18, will likely miss the NBA G League bubble as a member of the pioneering Ignite squad and instead will suit up for the Philippine five in the final leg of the qualifiers set from Feb. 18 to 22.

    Panlilio, also the first vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee and Meralco governor in the PBA, said Sotto linking up with the national team training pool at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna the soonest after he clears the mandatory quarantine period should do wonders.

    “The sooner he can come in, the better for him. He needs to understand the system that they’re trying to play and run,” Panlilio said.

    “Kumbaga sa basketball, naga-amuyan na kayo ng teammates mo. And you only do that if you’re able to practice with them.”

    Leading the pool are amateur standouts Isaac Go, twins Matt and Mike Nieto, guard Rey Suerte, Juan and Javi Gomez de Liaño, guard Dave Ildefonso, big men Justine Baltazar, Calvin Oftana, William Navarro, Kemark Cariño, Dwight Ramos, and Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast, a candidate for naturalization.

    Six pros are fighting for slots in the final 12, namely the NLEX duo of Kiefer Ravena and Raul Soyud, the TNT pair of Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario, Terrafirma wingman CJ Perez, and Phoenix slotman Justin Chua.

    Sporting a 3-0 card, Gilas squares off with South Korea on Feb. 18, a reset of their initial match that was called off in the second window.

    The Filipino dribblers battle Indonesia on Feb. 20 and then South Korea on Feb. 22 anew.