MANILA - Kai Sotto arrived at the Quest Hotel in Clark, Pampanga on Sunday afternoon with the rest of Gilas Pilipinas, but there's no assurance that he can play in the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
"You're really gonna have a hard time hiding a 7-4 guy," quipped coach Ryan Gregorio, special assistant to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio, regarding Sotto.
Indeed, Sotto was met with cheers when he stepped off the bus along with the other national team players. The teenager arrived in the country last June 1, but had to undergo quarantine before he could join Gilas Pilipinas.
Gregorio said that while Sotto's arrival with the team is certainly a reason for excitement, it doesn't mean that he will get to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas in the qualifiers.
"He will still be evaluated in terms of his match fitness. That is part of my discussion with Coach Tab Baldwin," Gregorio explained. "We want to make sure that we are not compromising his health."
"He has not done a lot of basketball in the last few days, and we want to immerse him slowly. We want to make sure that he knows the defensive scheme of things, our concepts on offense, our strategies on our scouting reports and all, and of course, at the top of it is build chemistry," he added.
A more definite answer regarding Sotto's status will come in the next couple of days, as the coaching staff puts together its "final 12" for the Philippines' first game of the qualifiers against South Korea on June 16.
In a previous interview on "The Chasedown," Gregorio also stressed that they want to make sure that Sotto "plays good basketball" once he officially steps on the court for the Philippines.
"What we want is for him to really play his best basketball. We're not gonna leave him out there just for the sake of him donning our jersey," he said. "Remember, he is going to be the future of Philippine basketball, and we just want to take care of him this early."
If Sotto plays for Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, it will mark his debut for the Philippines senior team after several stints with the juniors squad.
Gilas plays South Korea on June 16 and 20, and Indonesia on June 18 for their final assignments of the Asia Cup qualifiers. The top two teams in each group advance to the FIBA Asia Cup, scheduled for August in Indonesia.
After the Asia Cup qualifiers, Gilas Pilipinas will fly to Belgrade, Serbia for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.