SBP to parade Sotto in Olympic qualifiers
Kai Sotto’s decision to leave his team in the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is looking to deploy him in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).
SBP special assistant to the president Ryan Gregorio yesterday confirmed that the 18-year-old slotman is being considered to be part of the team that will compete in this prestigious tourney that stakes a ticket in the Tokyo Olympics in July.
Seeing action in the OQT would be a major boost to Sotto’s young career.
After leaving Ignite to play in the third window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers last February, his dream of becoming the first full-blooded Filipino in the NBA hit a snag as NBA G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim announced that he will no longer join the ongoing bubble season in Orlando.
The FIBA tourney also got postponed, leaving Sotto with no competitive tourney to compete in.
Fortunately, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced that the Philippines would be competing in the OQT that would be held in Serbia from 29 June to 4 July following the withdrawal of New Zealand.
“Yes,” Gregorio said in a text message to Daily Tribune when asked if they will field Sotto in the OQT.
In a statement, SBP president Al Panlilio stressed that they are looking to form the “best team possible,” not just to qualify in the Olympics, but also to give Gilas Pilipinas a world-class exposure heading into the country’s hosting of the FIBA World Cup in 2023.
“Whenever we compete in international tournaments, we always aim to send the best team possible to make our Filipino fans proud,” Panlilio, who also serves as governor of Meralco in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), said.
“This is truly a welcome development and we are very happy that Gilas Pilipinas Men will be given a chance to compete for a spot in the Olympics.”
Panlilio said they would reach out to the PBA to recruit the best players in the country, including naturalization prospect Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast.
After all, the naturalization process of Kouame already passed the committee level in the Senate and it needs only two more sessions and the approval of the President to make him available for Gilas Pilipinas.
“We will be coordinating with the PBA to plot our plans moving forward,” Panlilio said.
“And we’re hopeful that Ange Kouame’s naturalization will be signed into law by then to give Gilas Pilipinas Men that added boost it needs to be more competitive.”
Gilas Pilipinas will be facing world’s No. 5 Serbia and Dominican Republic in the OQT.
Sotto is tipped to have a massive exposure as he gets to bang bodies with prized big man Nikola Jokic and 7-foot-4 giant Boban Marjanovic of Serbia in the OQT.
And if ever Dominican Republic brings in its elite team, he would share the floor with former NBA All-Star Al Horford and former NBA top overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns.
Meralco coach Norman Black believes that Sotto can stand his ground against elite competition.
“He is now stronger and more skilled,” said Black, one of the few coaches who trained Sotto inside the Gilas Pilipinas bubble.
“Having been with him in the bubble for a week, the one thing I can say is that he has improved a lot since high school.”