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15 Kai Zachary Sotto (PHI), 14 Ariel John Edu (PHI)
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Bigger and better Filipino twin towers determined to make a big splash in Greece

MANILA (Philippines) - With added bulk and extra heaps of confidence, the Philippines will be entering the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup as a team nobody should overlook.

And the main reason for that is the bigger and better twin tower combo of Kai Zachary Sotto and Ariel John Edu.

"I'm trying to bring all I learned from D-I into this team and this tournament."AJ Edu

Sotto, who has been busy training hard in the United States these past two months, and Edu, who was a vital cog for the University of Toledo Rockets in the US NCAA, recently returned to home to Manila to bolster the preparations of Gilas Youth as they return to the World U19 stage for the first time in 40 years.

Both Sotto and Edu rejoined the Filipino U19 squad, which is now helmed by head coach Sandy Arespacochaga.

 Philippines U19 national pool for the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup   
 Gerry Abadiano Rhayyan Amsali Geo Chiu AJ Edu
Terrence Fortea Dave Ildefonso Bismarck Lina Dalph Panopio
Miguel Oczon Joshua Ramirez Kai Sotto James Spencer
Carl Tamayo Xyrus Torres    

Sotto, for his part, loved to be back on the team, and he was eager to show his teammates the new and improved version of himself who will try to lead the team in Greece later this month. The lanky 7ft 2in (2.17m) gentle giant went through rigorous daily training and conditioning sessions in the US, and it helped him gain a bulkier frame. From 210 lbs. (95.3kgs) in March, Sotto returned home at 223 lbs. (101.2kgs) with no loss in agility or quickness.

"So my training in the US was big for me, and I knew it would help me when I got back here, especially with the FIBA World Cup where it's a different fight," Sotto said. "Every day in the States, it was as if I was gaining more confidence with what I was doing."

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@kzsotto holding his own in College, pre-Draft and professional level athletes

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Sotto will team up with Edu up front together with holdovers from last year's successful U18 team, Geo Chiu and Rhayyan Amsali. Returning to Gilas Youth is versatile 6ft 7in (2.00m) forward Carl Tamayo, who was a vital cog in the Philippines' 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup effort but missed the U18 Asia campaign due to injury.

As for Edu, the 6ft 11in (2.10m) slot man hopes to bring everything he has learned from his maiden US NCAA sojourn into the team and perhaps if they're fortunate, spring some upsets in Heraklion.

"I've had a really good year in Toledo," explained Edu. "It was a big learning curve for me - the athleticism, speed, and just the skill level of D-I basketball. I'm trying to bring all I learned from D-I into this team and this tournament."

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“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..” Colossians 3:23

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So far, coach Sandy likes what he has seen, and he feels upbeat about their chances to turn some heads at the U19 World Cup.

"I think Kai and AJ did well last year, but they kind of canceled out the bigs of our opponents," coach Sandy said. "We need to come up with a scheme that will take advantage of their length and agility. I think they'll be more competitive, smarter, and better, but I know that if we practice well, train well and prepare well, everything will turn out fine."

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Your #GilasPilipinas Youth Team for the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup is locked, loaded and ready for battle #ParaSaBayan! #SBP #LabanPilipinas

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The Filipino U19 pool will continue their preparation for the next two weeks before flying to Doha, Qatar for a brief training camp prior to heading to Greece.

They tip their U19 World Cup gauntlet off against hosts Greece on June 29 before playing Argentina the next day and finishing off the group stage against Russia on July 2.