Chot Reyes inspired by Argentina, Iran model as he counts on Sotto and Co. to take over Gilas
Chot Reyes can't wait for the day when prodigious youngsters like Kai Sotto (above) can take over the Gilas program. Jaime Campos

CHOT Reyes is currently preoccupied with Gilas Pilipinas' buildup for the 2019 Fiba World Cup qualifiers, but he's also keeping one eye on the future.

Speaking before over a thousand coaches on Monday during the NBTC Coaches' Convention at the Ynares Sports Arena, Reyes bared he looks forward to the day when Kai Sotto and his Batang Gilas batchmates to take over the national team.

The 15-year-old Sotto, already over seven feet tall and still growing, leads a group of prodigious youngsters brought together from across the globe by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to form the nucleus of the Batang Gilas program.

The batch, which also includes Fil-Nigerian teen AJ Edu and Fil-Australian Ethan Kirkness, is being counted upon to represent the country in youth tournaments beginning at the Southeast Asian level.

Reyes, however, hopes the group can be kept together for much longer - long enough to take over from the Fajardos and Aguilars and play for the Gilas seniors team.

"If you are going to have continued success on the international stage, we have to make sure that we have players that are part of the comprehensive program from the beginning," said Reyes.

Reyes said Sotto and Co. can give the national team program the continuity that it lacks under the current set-up, where Gilas picks up a group of players from PBA teams which it trains weeks, sometimes days before an international tournament.

That's the reason that Reyes wants to integrate, this early, these youngsters into the Gilas program.

The 6-foot-9 Edu was tapped to play for the Philippine team in the last Fiba Under-18 3x3 World Cup in Chengdu, China last July while Sotto stood at the forefront of the national side that ruled the Seaba Under-16 Championship in Manila last May.

On the other hand, another talented teen, Kobe Paras, joined the Gilas seniors team during the Jones Cup in Taipei and the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia.

Reyes even tinkered with the idea of including Sotto in the SEA Games team.

"Ngayon pa lang, inaabangan na namin, binabantayan na namin sila Kai Sotto, all of these members of the (Batang Gilas) team, we are making them play within the system," said the multi-titled coach. "We are trying to get them into the program."

"Para pagdating nila six, seven, eight years from now, they will have taken advantage of that longevity na tinatawag ko," said Reyes.

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The five-time PBA Coach of the Year need not look far for inspiration.

He cited the batch of Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola which brought Argentina to new heights in world basketball over the last decade as well as the Iran team led by Hamed Haddadi, Mohammad Bahrami and Mehdi Kamrani that once dominated Asian basketball.

Both these teams, Reyes pointed out, started out in the youth program before graduating to the senior team, with unprecedented success.

"Bakit malakas ang Iran? Hindi (lang) dahil meron silang Haddadi. Pero 'yung grupo nila Haddadi, they were playing together since they were 17 years old ... Scola, Ginobili, that group, they've been together since they were 17 years old," said Reyes.

Such continuity is also crucial, Reyes, under the current qualifying format of Fiba which opens international windows for home-and-away matches - and leaves little time for preparation.

A group that can be kept together for a long time, Reyes said, won't need as much time for preparation.

"Kapag may competition, maski isa, dalawang linggo lang sila nag-practice, ayos na sa kanila kasi nagkakaamuyan na sila," the national coach said.

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