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The Philippines' future hinges on their '3 Ks'
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on My Mind) - The future of Philippine basketball rests on the shoulders of three young talents: Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras and Kai Sotto.
Everyone knows that the Philippines is a veritable hotbed of basketball. Filipinos are famous for living and breathing basketball. It is ingrained in their culture just as much as religion, politics and traffic. Whether or not a Filipino actually plays the game, he or she knows how much basketball is a part of the country's social and cultural fabric.
This is why the fate of the national team is so important to the people. How far they go in international tournaments and how high they have climbed in the FIBA World Rankings are engaging and often contentious conversation pieces in the locker room, at the neighborhood cafe or around the office water cooler.
A few names that have recently been talked about by most if not all Filipino hoop nuts belong to three promising studs who have the potential to not just be superstars but actually carry the Philippines to unprecedented heights.
Here they are, the 3Ks of Philippine basketball's future.
By now, a lot of people outside the Philippines have seen how good Kiefer Ravena is, especially after his forays at the FIBA 3x3 and the recently concluded FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2017. He averaged 20.6 points in the Asia Champions Cup, finishing as one of only two locals among the top ten scorers (the other being Qais Omar Al Shabebi of Al Ahli Dubai), and he was chiefly responsible for the fifth place finish of Chooks-To-Go Philippines.
Ravena is actually considered basketball royalty back home. The 1.85m guard is a second-generation basketball player who has routinely been making the headlines since he was 13 years old. He has been one of the most closely followed basketball prodigies in the country's history, and it's no wonder he is well known by his moniker, "The Phenom."
Unlike many of his contemporaries like Gilas Pilipinas pool mainstays Troy Rosario, Kevin Ferrer and Von Pessumal, Ravena has not yet made the jump to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), but, instead, he has chosen to focus on his duty to the national team and perhaps another stint in the ASEAN Basketball League with Alab Pilipinas. This, however, has diminished neither his stature nor his skill level. Many consider him among the best Filipino players outside of the PBA (the others being Christian Standhardinger, Ray Parks and, of course, Jordan Clarkson), and there is absolutely no doubt he will play a leadership role for future iterations of Gilas.
Before Ravena even made waves this year at the FIBA Asia level, Kobe Paras had already made quite a name for himself on the international stage. Everyone can trace his stardom back to his FIBA U18 3x3 days, where he won not one but two Slam Dunk Contest crowns. The second generation high-flyer's combination of size, athleticism and mobility is something unmatched in the Philippine context, and that is the biggest reason why he has so many PBA coaches salivating at the possibility of drafting him at some point in the next few years. It's also why a good number of Filipinos still hold on to the hope that Kobe may just be the first full-blooded and homegrown Filipino to crack the NBA.
That is still a long ways away, though, and for now, the 1.98m wingman is focused really on two things - doing well in the US NCAA with his new school, Cal State Northridge, and making himself available to play for the Philippines as much as possible.
There is a strong possibility he and Kiefer can form the backcourt combo of the future for Gilas Pilipinas, and if both of them can max out their potential, then the sky is the limit for the Philippines.
Now, as if having Kiefer and Kobe wasn't enough, the kid (he is only in ninth grade and is not even 16 years old yet) each Filipino fan is really hoping to bust out big time is none other than Kai Zachary Sotto. Like Kiefer and Kobe, Kai too is the son of a former PBA player, but unlike the first two, Kai may literally end up being head and shoulders above the competition. The 2002-born gentle giant stood 2.10m the last time he was measured at the SEABA U16 Championship 2017 five months ago, but reports have surfaced that he may actually already be as tall as current Gilas naturalization prospect Isaiah Austin, whose height is 2.16m! If Kai continues to grow at this rate, he is projected to be about as towering as Yao Ming. Imagine that!
Having that kind of size has never happened in Philippine basketball, but the really intriguing thing about Kai is not just his size but his passion for the game and his skill-set. At the tender age of twelve, Kai already began playing against much older foes, toughening up his body and, more importantly, learning the intricacies of playing "grown up basketball." That has certainly helped his development progress quite rapidly, and it's no shock that he was dominant when the Philippines swept the SEABA U16 tourney this past May. Kai put up 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks while playing under 19 minutes per contest. Those are solid stats, but the FIBA U16 Asia Championship later this year may yet be his true coming out party.
And so there you have it, the 3Ks who may just push the Philippines from being just a regional hotbed of basketball to being a true global contender. Remember the names: Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras and Kai Sotto.
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