MANILA, Philippines – After an impressive performance in the 2018 FIBA Under-16 Asian Championship, Kai Sotto is looking to improve further as he and the rest of Batang Gilas gear up for the FIBA Under-17 World Cup in June.
Sotto made it to the Mythical Team of the FIBA U-16 Asian Championship after averaging 16.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in their six-game run. So impressive was the 7-foot-1 teenager that the FIBA website asserted that he could be "Asia's next Yao Ming."
If you ask Sotto, however, the 15-year-old will say that he has plenty of things to work on.
"Lahat," he said Tuesday when asked what he needs to improve on. "Everything na kailangan i-improve, kailangan ko i-improve."
"Hindi pa naman ako perfect sa kahit anong skill," he added. "Papalakas pa ako lalo, at magi-improve pa."
However, there is already one specific aspect that he knows he needs to work on: his strength.
As tall as he is, Sotto was still pushed around too easily by burlier players during the FIBA U-16 Asian Championship. Indeed, this was also a problem for him during the UAAP Season 80 juniors basketball finals, when National University's smaller but more physical frontline bumped him repeatedly and forced him out of position.
Sotto knows that come the World Cup, he will surely face off against stronger players.
"Kung sa skill, kaya naman naming mga Pinoy 'yung kalaban namin," he pointed out. " 'Yung physical strength lang namin, hindi ganoon kalakas kumpara sa ibang teams, kaya 'yun ang dapat naming i-improve, para maka-tapat kami sa ibang teams."
Sotto pointed out that their lack of strength and stamina doomed them in certain instances in the FIBA Asia U-16.
"Medyo pagod na 'yung katawan," said Sotto.
This was a problem against China in the semifinals, when they fell short, 60-54, despite a stunning 26-point, 21-rebound effort from Sotto.
Though they are just a couple of months away from the World Cup, Sotto is determined to put in the work so that he will not be pushed around come game time.
"Sa worlds, mas malaki 'yung mga kalaban namin. So isa 'yun sa i-improve namin dapat," he stressed. "Tapos siyempre, practices din as a team, kasi iba na sa worlds eh."
The FIBA Under-17 World Cup will run from June 30 to July 8 in Rosario and Santa Fe, Argentina. Batang Gilas has been grouped with the host country, France and Croatia.
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