A new face showed up at the Gilas practice on Monday but he was neither a coach temporarily replacing Tab Baldwin nor a cadet.
But at 6-foot-9, many can easily confuse him to be a surprise recruit from out of nowhere by the national team to back up twin towers June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter, except that he is just 13 years old.
Impossible to miss because of his towering size, Kai Sotto easily caught the attention of fans as he appeared at the Meralco Gym to watch the ongoing preparation of Gilas for the FIBA Olympic Qualifier in July.
Kai, son of ex-PBA player Ervin Sotto, was tagged along by his godfather and Gilas mainstay Ranidel de Ocampo at the training session after driving him in his summer class.
“Mahilig din talaga siya mag-basketball so gusto ko makita niya yung practice ng Gilas para kahit papaano ma-inspire siya,” said de Ocampo, who is smaller by around 5 inches compared to Sotto.
Kai’s father and de Ocampo played together at St. Francis of Assisi in college before transitioning to the PBA.
Although the weekly practice got cut short to 40 minutes from the usual 2-hour session in lieu of the upcoming PBA playoffs, de Ocampo believes it’s a good start for his godson to keep him inspired in playing for the country.
“Malaking bagay na nae-expose na siya, yung mga tito niya, ako ninong niya, na kahit ganitong gabing-gabi nagpa-practice pa rin kami para sa bansa natin,” he said. “Sana pagdating ng panahon, ma-represent niya yung bansa natin, makita niya kung paano magtrabaho yung team ng Gilas.”
Recognizing the famous cliche basketball phrase ‘You can’t teach height’, the veteran power forward likes the younger Sotto’s determination to forge his own basketball journey.
“Sa edad niya, masasabi kong maigi na siya kasi nung ganyang edad ako, di pa ako ganyan maglaro,” shared de Ocampo. “Maigi yung maaga siyang magstart, maturuan siya nang maayos sa pupuntahan niyang school.”
Consistently in contact with his friend and former teammate Ervin, de Ocampo promised he will support Kai Sotto all the way.
“Andito lang ako para sa kanya and kung ano mang ibang pangangailangan niya (Kai),” he said. “Sa ngayon medyo nahihirapan pa si (Ervin) na suportahan siya so sana magtulung- tulong kaming magkakaibigan. – By Jason Mercene
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