MANILA, Philippines – Kai Sotto's first foray into international basketball could not have gone any better, as he and the rest of Batang Gilas dominated the 2017 SEABA Under-16 Championships this week at the Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-11 Sotto towered over the Philippines' opponents and averaged 16.75 points, 8.5 rebounds, and three blocks per game. He had some highlight-reel plays, including multiple dunks against Indonesia in a game that was watched by their "kuyas" from the Gilas Pilipinas team.
He finished the tournament on a high note, tallying a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds while blocking four shots in their 83-62 win over Malaysia in the gold medal game.
"Isang karangalan na makasama sa line-up na ito at ma-represent ang Pilipinas. Kaya napakasaya ko na makasama ko 'yung teammates ko at coaches ko," Sotto said after the contest.
[It's an honor to be included in this line-up and to represent the Philippines. I'm very happy to have won together with my coaches and teammates.]
Batang Gilas did not experience adversity in the tournament until their final game, when they were pushed by a gritty Malaysia squad before pulling away in the fourth quarter.
Still, Sotto considers the entire competition a huge learning experience.
"Kailangan pagpasok mo sa court, may puso ka," he said. "Kailangan mo paghirapan lahat ng gagawin mo."
"Pinaghandaan talaga namin ito," he added. "Iniisip namin na deserving kami manalo."
[When you enter the court, you have to have heart, and you have to work hard in everything you do. We really prepared for this, and we believed that we deserved to win.]
After a successful SEABA U-16 stint, Sotto and the rest of his teammates are qualified to the 2017 FIBA Asia Under-16 Championships. While Sotto was able to leverage his height and wingspan to get easy shots in SEABA, he knows that won't be the case in the Asian level.
"Sa tingin ko, lahat kailangan namin i-improve," he said. "Titingnan namin 'yung advantages at disadvantages namin sa kalaban, at i-work on pa namin 'yun."
[I think we need to improve on everything. We have to determine our advantages and disadvantages against other teams, and work on that.]
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.