UAAP title defense still top priority as Kai Sotto juggles national team practices, Ateneo stint

For the past few days, Kai Sotto has been living up to the “basketball never stops” tagline.

Sotto, the youngest yet tallest player in Team Pilipinas’ 20-man roster, has his time divided between the national team and his high school squad, the Ateneo De Manila Blue Eaglets.

The 16-year old center was recently called up by coach Yeng Guiao to be part of the men’s national team as they prepare for the fifth window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. Sotto and fellow cadet player Ricci Rivero were selected to join 18 other PBA standouts who would vie for roster spots in the home games against Kazakhstan and Iran.

National team practices inside the Meralco Gym in Ortigas started last November 12 – a day after the Eaglets opened their Juniors title defense against the UST Tiger Cubs. The Eaglets, crowned as Juniors champions in Season 80, scored a 74-61 victory over the Tiger Cubs, with Sotto leading the way with 24 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.

Last Wednesday, Sotto reported straight to the national team training session right after his afternoon practice with the Eaglets in Katipunan. Accompanied by his dad Ervin, the 7-foot-2 wunderkind participated in the second day of practice, showing no signs of fatigue.

Taking the advice of his father, Kai manages his time wisely for practices in separate venues. Splitting time between the two teams, the 16-year old Sotto has the UAAP season on top of his priority list.

“Sabi ko sa kanya, unahin nya muna yung Eaglets. Season kasi nila ngayon e. Pag break sila sa Eaglets, pwede syang mag-ensayo. So ngayon, Monday, Wednesday and Friday lang naman, naba-balance naman ni coach Reggie (Varilla). Naiintindihan naman nya yung bata. Kapag malapit na yung (UAAP) games, baka pwedeng sa Eaglets muna siya,” said the elder Sotto.

From his campaign with the national youth teams, the lanky center from Ateneo received an early invitation to the senior squad that’s gunning for a ticket to the World Cup. The Sottos are actually still in disbelief with Kai’s inclusion to the pool, which mainly headlined by PBA players.

“Sa una, hindi kami makapaniwala. Kasi 16 years-old lang yan e. Nabigyan siya ng opportunity at maraming blessings na mapasama siya dyan. Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘make the most out of it’. Everyday is a learning process para sa kanya,” shared Ervin, who currently serves as assistant coach for PBA ball club NLEX Road Warriors and MPBL team Bataan Risers.

The elder Sotto looks forward to the lessons Kai would pick up training with professional basketball players. Whether or not Kai makes the ‘Final 12’, the learning experience alone serves as a “blessing” for the young national team stalwart.

“Yung ma-callup sya dito, sobrang saya na namin. Mapunta lang sya dito, makapag-ensayo sa mga top players natin sa Pilipinas. Sobrang swerte nya. Yung ma-represent mo yung bayan, sobrang laking achievement as a 16-year old player. Kung ma-lineup sya, sobrang blessed nya talaga. Kung hindi, at least na-experience nya yung mga ganitong sitwasyon,” said the proud father.

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