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Kai Sotto joins the big boys in Philippines 20-man pool
MANILA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Philippine boy wonder Kai Sotto has been thrown in the Asian Qualifiers lot along with his big brothers for the fifth window that begins this month.
The 7ft 1in (2.16m) - and still growing - Sotto has turned a lot of heads from around and beyond Asia over the past year, having played for the Philippines' U16, U17 and U18 teams both at the continental and world levels. His combination of size, length, mobility and basketball IQ has made scouts salivate at his upside, especially given how he just turned 16 this year.
It will be a much different look at the next level, though, what with Sotto, who is still just in tenth grade, finally joining the grizzled veterans of Team Pilipinas as they soon begin preparations for their next two Asian Qualifiers fixtures.
|Philippines 20-man pool for Asian Qualifiers' fifth window|
|Japeth Aguilar||Beau Belga||Alex Cabagnot||Jayson Castro|
|JP Erram||June Mar Fajardo||Marcio Lassiter||Paul Lee|
|Gabe Norwood||Stanley Pringle||Ricci Rivero||Troy Rosario|
|Ian Sangalang||Arwind Santos||Greg Slaughter||Kai Sotto|
|Christian Standhardinger||LA Tenorio||Scottie Thompson||Matthew Wright|
This early, Filipino fans are already dubbing this pool as the tallest ever in the history of Philippines basketball - and that's even with the omission of naturalized player Andray Blatche, whom the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas opted not to tap for the fifth window.
Serving as mentors to Sotto up front are international veterans June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Troy Rosario and Christian Standhardinger along with a couple of intriguing returnees in Greg Slaughter and Arwind Santos. Slaughter was part of the fourth window pool but was sidelines by injury, while Santos hasn't seen action for the national team since playing in the FIBA Asia Cup 2009 in Tianjin, China.
Santos's coach at that time, Yeng Guiao, will be at the helm anew in the next window, and he has also brought in some seasoned guards to shore up the squad's backcourt. These are Jayson Castro, who will still serve his remaining one-game suspension, and LA Tenorio, who last saw action at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Spain.
Coach Yeng Guiao names 20-man training pool; vets LA Tenorio, Arwind Santos included in the list https://t.co/TlvSZJyhc8 #GilasPilipinas #LabanPilipinas #FIBAWCQ #ThisIsMyHouse pic.twitter.com/Qr7utKYDNt— Gilas Pilipinas (@SmartGilas) November 6, 2018
Despite including Sotto in the pool, Guiao has been non-committal in terms of actually fielding him against their next two foes - Kazakhstan and Iran. Instead, Guiao sees this as an opportunity for the youngster to fast-track his learning as he is projected to be a bulwark of the Philippines' future national teams.
"We have nothing to lose but everything to gain with Kai," Guiao said. "We want to accelerate his development by playing with the big boys, or the old boys because he's a big boy too."
Speaking of development, Guiao has already made public his intentions to have the entire pool play tune-up games against Jordan and Lebanon before the start of the fifth window.
The Filipinos first tackle Kazakhstan on 30 November before aiming for payback against Iran on 3 December. Both games will be held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.