KAI Sotto impressed national team head coach Yeng Guiao and the Team Pilipinas big men in his first practice for the 20-man pool in the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup 2019 Qualifiers.
The youngest member of the pool - but the tallest at 7-2 turned heads in his first training with the seniors men’s national basketball team last Monday night at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City.
Guiao even praised the maturity of cadets Sotto and Ricci Rivero, who both showed they can mix up with the veterans.
“If you look at them playing with the veterans and the professionals, hindi mo mahahalatang cadets sila dahil you don’t even notice na they are five, six years younger than the rest of the guys,” Guiao said.
“That I think is how matured and developed their games are. Of course, there are still a lot of upside to it but today’s the first day. They will keep on improving and they will keep getting better from here on.”
Sotto said he wants to learn from everyone in the team — even if it’s going to be physical —regardless if he will make it to the final lineup or not.
“Gusto ko sa kanilang lahat yung may matutunan ako sa kanila, kahit sino naman, willing naman ako matuto, makikinig lang ako sa kanila,” the Batang Gilas standout said.
Four-time PBA MVP and national team mainstay Junemar Fajardo expressed his willingness to share his skills and knowledge to the 16-year-old.
“Willing ako turuan si Kai kung ano man yung tinuro sa akin nung mga nauna sa akin,” Fajardo said. “Ituturo ko rin sa kanya para mapasa niya sa susunod na (henerasyon), ganun naman yun.”
Arwind Santos, who is making his national team comeback after nine years, was mesmerized with the length of the youngest member of the pool.
“Nung nagdi-drills kami parang pumipitas ng aratilis lang sa bakuran. Napakahaba niya,” Santos said. “Parang nakikita ko yung sarili ko nung bata ako, sa aming lugar, sa amin malaki na ko, pinakamahaba na ako e pero dito parang lumiit ka ng konti.”
Santos believes that Sotto can play in FIBA and even in the NBA.
“Oo kahit nga sa NBA pwede siya eh kung tutuusin, depende lang sa kanya yun kung paano niya mas gagalingan pa. Malayo mararating niyan sigurado ako,” the San Miguel star said.
“Kailangan alagaan lang niya yung sarili niya, wag siyang pusong mamon, dapat matibay siya sa lahat,” he added. “Alam mo dito sa mundo natin hindi mo mapi-please lahat ng tao, may magdo-down at magdo-down sayo kaya wag mo patulan, sige lang laban lang, ngiti lang at dasal lang.”
JP Erram and Beau Belga were also amazed with the potential of Sotto.
“He has the talent na para sa  years old yung talent niya nandyan,” Erram said. “Work ethic lang talaga kailangan i-sustain niya yun hanggang sa mag-succeed siya as an athlete.”
“Siguro tips on how mag-excel sa sistema ni Yeng Guiao kasi if he can see this group ako na yata yung pinakamatagal na naglaro para kay Yeng Guiao dito. So tips on how to be effective,” the Rain or Shine bigman said.
“Ang laki eh parang nakakapanghinayang na hindi isama sa line-up, di ba? Pero yun nga it’s a learning process for him, bata pa marami pang matututunan especially with June Mar, Poy, pagdating pa nila Greg (Slaughter), nila Japeth (Aguilar).”
Belga, however, said Sotto will not be exempted from the physicality, which he considers as ‘brutal love.’
“It’s up to him kung papaano niya ma-adapt kami kasi hindi kami serious type na tao, more on bully kami,” he said. “Pero ang pagka-bully namin yun yung way namin kung paano namin ishow yung pagmamahal sa 'yo, kumbaga brutal na pagmamahal yun para sa akin.”
Erram concluded that exposing Sotto in this kind of experience at age 16 will continue to boost his huge potential and he hopes that the Ateneo high school star will stay in the country and develop his talent here.
“Siya yung future ng Philippine baskeball. If he stays here, tuloy-tuloy niya yung college dito talaga, tapos PBA then ma-improve niya yung skills ang laking tulong talaga para sa Pilipinas,” the Blackwater star said.
“Isipin mo if he stays ang daming mare-realize ng mga tao na okay naman pala na mag-stay sa Pilipinas kasi magi-improve ka rin naman pala hindi mo naman kailangan pumunta ng ibang bansa para mag-improve pa ng skills mo, di ba.”