THE FIBA U-16 Asian Championship serves as the biggest test so far internationally, for promising big man Kai Sotto.
All eyes are expected to be on the 7-foot-1 Sotto in the April 2-8 showpiece serving as his baptism of fire as he is pitted against the best young players from Asia-Oceania.
The top four teams will represent the region in the FIBA U-17 Basketball World Cup slated next year.
Coach Mike Oliver though, expressed confidence on his young big man, who bannered the country’s campaign when the national youth team completed a sweep of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship held in Manila last year.
“I think kaya naman ni Kai na sumabay, although ngayon lang siguro siya makakalaro ng mga ka-height niyang players,” said Oliver shortly before the team departed for Foshan, China.
“(From what I know), si Kai yata ang tallest (sa tournament), although maraming mga 6-11 yung China ever since,” he added. “Ang problem talaga natin is yung wingman ng other countries, who stands 6-7 or 6-8. Hindi ganun kalalaki yung mga wings natin, e.”
Batang Gilas arrived in the prefecture-city level in Guandong Province on Black Saturday. The Filipinos will plunge into practice on Easter Sunday in time for their opening game against Malaysia the following day.
The team then takes a one-day break before its showdown against powerhouse Australia to determine the top team in Group B which will advance outright to the quarterfinals.
Oliver likes the PH team’s chances against the Malaysians, who the Filipinos routed during the SEABA final, 83-62, with Sotto firing 15 points to go with 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“Actually, baligtad ang sitwasyon natin. Mas malaki tayo sa kanila, so sila ang magre-rely sa outside shooting, tayo naman magre-rely sa height,” said the former Far Eastern University point guard.
Australia, Oliver said, likes to press a lot and is also loaded with outside shooters.
“So ang primary concern there is how to break their press,” said the Batang Gilas mentor.
A total of 13 countries in four groups are seeing action in the event. The teams that topped each group advance to the quarterfinals outright, with the second and third teams in each group set to play in a knockout qualification for a quarterfinals berth.
The quarterfinals is also a knockout phase among the eight surviving teams.